At his first public appearance on Saturday, General (retired) Sarath Fonseka, nominee of the main opposition parties for the January 26 presidential poll, hit out at President Mahinda Rajapaksa with charges of corruption and nepotism.

Speaking at the 54th United National Party (UNP) convention presided over by Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe, the former Army chief promised to work towards abolition of Executive Presidency and a political solution to the ethnic conflict acceptable to all stakeholders.

General (retired) Fonseka has the backing of the UNP, the main opposition party in Parliament, and the ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). The UNP, which leads the newly-floated 18-party United National Front (UNF) and JVP differ on a number of major issues but see General (retired) Fonseka as their best bet against Mr. Rajapaksa in the presidential election.

With the campaign just beginning, the General is finding it hard to balance the interests of the two parties on several contentious subjects like foreign relations, constitutional and economic reforms and solution to the ethnic conflict.

Mr. Rajapaksa has not betrayed any signs of nervousness over the emergence of the retired General as the new rallying point for the opposition. However, there is little doubt that the nearly 2.8 lakh war displaced are the biggest beneficiaries of the advancement of presidential polls by two years.

On Friday, the government announced that more than 70 per cent of the nearly 2.8 lakh war displaced had returned to their original places.

Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe told a news conference here that the Rajapaksa government was close to achieving its target of resettling the entire Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) population within 180 days.

The UNP convention was by and large a peaceful affair barring an incident involving the manhandling of journalists of the state-run Rupavahini and Independent Television Network (ITN). It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.

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