JAFFNA, Sri Lanka - A Tamil candidate for landmark polls in Sri Lanka's former warzone fled a mob attack Friday as the man tipped to become the region's chief minister accused the army of intimidating voters.
Many Tamils complain they are treated as second-class citizens and face discrimination, and Saturday's vote is seen as crucial in reducing ethnic tensions.
Anandi Saseedaran, 42, told how dozens of armed men surrounded her house on the eve of the Jaffna region's first ballot for a semi-autonomous council, forcing her to flee with the help of supporters.
One of the leaders of her party, retired Supreme Court judge K. Wigneswaran who is expected to be elected the region's chief minister, said security forces were trying to scare voters away from the ballot box.
"The army is going brazenly in uniform attacking people and saying they must not go to vote," Wigneswaran, 74, told AFP at the modest office of his Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the heart of Jaffna.
Jaffna is the capital of the battle-scarred northern province, home to over a million Tamils and also the Hindu cultural centre of Sri Lanka's second-largest ethnic group.
Tamils say the poll is being held under international pressure on Colombo to share power with Tamils.
"They (the military) do not want us to have a clear-cut majority," Wigneswaran said, while accusing the military of launching a pre-dawn attack on Saseedaran's home.
Wigneswaran said dozens of armed men stormed Saseedaran's home, outside Jaffna, and wounded at least eight people including a local election monitor. They have been hospitalised.
Poll monitoring group, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections, said the tyres of vehicles used by monitors were slashed, delaying transport of the injured to hospital.
"My supporters took me to safety when about 70 armed men surrounded my house," Saseedaran told reporters. "They said they were looking for me and they wanted to kill me."
She said the attackers were led by ruling party men and backed by security forces.
The military denied the allegation as "baseless" and demanded a police investigation.
"The security forces have no involvement in this election-related violent act," military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya said.