Profiles of Sri Lankan presidential candidates

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Colombo, Jan.25 (ANI): Following are the profiles of the two candidates contesting Sri Lanka's sixth presidential election on January 26 (Tuesday). They are as follows:

(1)President Mahinda Rajapaksa

The 64-year-old made a name for himself as a human rights defender during Sri Lanka's 1987-1990 Marxist insurrection, which the government put down violently. In 1970 he became Sri Lanka's youngest MP.

A lawyer by training, he comes from a long line of politicians from the southern district of Hambantota. He won his first term as president in 2005, when Sri Lanka was in the middle of a tenuous ceasefire agreement with the Tamil Tiger separatists.

After fruitless peace talks he turned to his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a retired infantry officer then serving as the defence secretary, to draw up a plan to defeat the Tigers once and for all.

His reputation has been seriously tainted by allegations that the Sri Lankan committed war crimes during last year's military campaign against the Tamil rebels.

At the time, he dismissed international criticism and calls for a last-minute ceasefire, which gave the military time to finish the war.

Despite promises to protect journalists and freedom of speech, at least one prominent journalist was murdered and dozens have been beaten, arrested or forced to flee the country. Watchdog Reporters Without Borders says Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

(2)Former army commander General Sarath Fonseka

General (retired) Fonseka, 59, is a career military officer who joined the army in 1970 and served as army commander from 2005-2009.

He led last year's victorious military campaign to crush the Tamil Tigers, with a mix of outright firepower and counter-insurgency tactics using special forces "deep penetration" units to attack the Tigers.

After the war, General Fonseka became the first and only serving officer to be promoted to the rank of four-star general. He was later appointed the country's first chief of defence staff, but he quit in November, complaining that the job was designed to sideline him.

He also complained that Rajapaksa wrongly suspected him of a coup plot and was taking too much credit for last year's victory.

A member of the Sinhalese ethnic majority, he has been quoted as saying Tamils should not demand "undue things" since Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese, a quote he later said was taken out of context.

He has pledged to abolish the powerful executive presidency and return power to parliament in six months, and to curb corruption.

But according to The Guardian, few, including the motley coalition of political parties backing him expect him to give up any power.

Fonseka holds a US "green card", which entitles him to permanent resident status in America, but that status could be in jeopardy, given the allegations of war crimes. (ANI)

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