Tamil candidate flees mob ahead of Sri Lanka local poll

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.

Anandi Saseedaran 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 judge K. Wigneswaran, 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 in an interview at the modest office of his Tamil National Alliance in the heart of Jaffna.

Jaffna is the capital of the battle-scarred northern province which is home to over a million Tamils and is also the Hindu cultural centre of Sri Lanka's second largest ethnic group.

"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 the home of Saseedaran.

Wigneswaran said dozens of armed men stormed Saseedaran's home, just outside Jaffna, and wounded at least eight people, including a local election monitor who had rushed to the area on hearing the armed raid. They have been hospitalised.

"My supporters took me to safety when about 70 armed men surrounded my house," Saseedaran told reporters. "They had said they were looking for me and that 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 and said they wanted police to investigate.

"This is a baseless allegation," military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya said. "The security forces have no involvement in this election-related violent act."

Wigneswaran said a large army presence was causing unease among the local population which he says lives under constant surveillance.

"This is an occupation army. They are here for a political purpose and not for security reasons," Wigneswaran said. "I tell them. 'You have no place here'. They have to get out."

He said security forces claiming victory over separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 meant that there was no longer a threat of violence in the region and troops could allow police to maintain law and order.