Sri Lanka's first elected Tamil chief minister to be sworn in

Sri Lanka's first elected Tamil chief minister to be sworn in

COLOMBO - Sri Lanka's first elected Tamil chief minister will be sworn in by President Mahinda Rajapakse Monday after a bitter election campaign, despite pressure from supporters to boycott the ceremony, his party said.

C. V. Wigneswaran's opposition Tamil party won a landslide victory in polls for a provincial council held last month in the former war zone.

The election was hailed internationally as a step towards ethnic reconciliation after decades of bloodshed.

The election, in which Wigneswaran's Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won 30 out of 38 seats, was the first in the battled-scarred northern region since the councils were formed 26 years ago.

But the campaign was marred by claims Rajapakse deployed troops to intimidate and attack minority Tamil supporters and candidates and scare off voters on polling day, to try to increase the chances of his own Sinhalese party.

In a sign of goodwill, Wigneswaran will go ahead with the oath of office at Rajapakse's official residence in Colombo on Monday morning, despite the pressure to stay away, a TNA leader said Sunday.

"Most of our supporters are dead against being sworn in before the president," said Dharmalingam Sithadthan, a TNA member elected to the Northern Province council in the September 21 polls.

"We have decided to show our goodwill. We have a desire to work together," Sithadthan told AFP.

President Rajapakse, whose party has denied claims of voter intimidation, has accused Wigneswaran of raising expectations of a separate state for minority Tamils before and after the election victory.

Elections were promised after councils were formed in 1987 in a bid to address Tamil demands for greater autonomy in exchange for an end to the separatist conflict. But continued fighting between Tamil Tiger rebels and the military meant they were never held.

Rajapakse's troops crushed the rebels in May 2009 and he declared an end to 37 years of ethnic bloodshed, in which at least 100,000 people were killed, according to UN estimates.

India's External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid is due in Colombo on Monday at the start of a two-day visit. He is scheduled to meet newly elected members of the council as well as the president, officials said.

New Delhi supported devolution of power to Sri Lanka's Tamils, who share close cultural and religious ties with Tamils in southern India. It has stressed the need for "genuine reconciliation" with Tamils after the war.

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