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Provincial Voting in Sri Lanka

April 6, 1999

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Millions of Sri Lankans cast ballots Tuesday in provincial elections that are expected to reflect public opinion on the government’s handling of a 16-year war against Tamil separatists.

First results were expected early Wednesday in this Indian Ocean island off the tip of India.

The six-week campaign was marred by violence and at least five deaths, including one just hours before polls opened. But voting Tuesday was conducted with far fewer irregularities than a similar election in January, according to independent election observers.

The independent Election Commission received complaints of election irregularities from 200 balloting booths in the five provinces where elections were held for local councils, assistant commissioner of elections K. Senanayake told the Associated Press.

The political parties accused each other of intimidation and vote fraud, but the independent Center for Monitoring Election Violence said the number of incidents was not more than 50.

The government announced a curfew from 11 p.m. Tuesday to 5:00 a.m. Wednesday in the capital of Colombo and the five provinces as a precautionary measure to prevent violence.

Early estimates said 60 to 70 percent of the seven million registered voters cast ballots for 263 provincial councilors.

The outcome of the elections is expected to reflect a war-weary public’s mood on the 16-year civil war and the government’s peace plan, which gives more autonomy to the provinces to satisfy Tamil aspirations for self-government.

The major parties contesting the elections are President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s People’s Alliance and the United National Party led by Ranil Wickremesinghe. A third party, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or JVP, was trying to carve out a niche for itself.

Tuesday’s voting completed the elections for all the provinces except the north and the east, where Tamil Tiger rebels are fighting for an independent Tamil homeland. The 16-year war has claimed 57,000 lives.

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