COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday vowed to return to politics following his stunning defeat in last month's presidential election and said he may contest for prime minister later this year.

Rajapaksa told a rally of tens of thousands of supporters urging him to return that he is unable to ignore their wishes.

Rajapaksa was defeated by former ally Maithripala Sirisena in the Jan. 8 election.

His supporters say Rajapaksa, who ended a decades-long civil war during his nine-year rule, must return because the new government has endangered the country's unity by being lenient toward ethnic minority Tamils.

"What we are experiencing today is not a defeat but a result of a conspiracy," he said in a message read out at the rally. "I say firmly that I am in anyway unable to ignore the wishes of those of you who think about the country and are committed for the country."

Rajapaksa's supporters asked him to contest for prime minister in elections likely to be held in July.

Sirisena has promised to prune presidential powers and empower the parliament under a prime minister who will be the head of government.

Wimal Weerawansa, a lawmaker calling for Rajapaksa's return, said the new government's moves to lift travel restrictions to the former northern war zone, plans to release land occupied by the military and a promise to the United Nations to conduct its own inquiry into war crimes allegations against government troops and the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in the final months of the fighting in 2009 risked the country's unity.