B. Muralidhar Reddy

11 more days to go for filing of papers for Presidential poll

Desertions from the ranks of both ruling party and Opposition on the cards

Fonseka distorting facts to gain public sympathy: Gotabhaya

COLOMBO: Though there are 11 days to go for the filing of papers for the January 26 Sri Lankan Presidential election, charges and counter-charges from the ruling party and the Opposition have become the order of the day.

Responding to charges of nepotism and corruption levelled by the retired General Sarath Fonseka at a convention of the main Opposition United National Party (UNP), the government on Sunday accused the Opposition of carrying out a vicious campaign against the family members of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

It challenged the Opposition to prove the charges.

Desertions from the ranks of both the ruling party and the Opposition are on the cards. There are indications that a senior UNP leader could throw his weight behind Mr. Rajapaksa on Monday.

The former Army chief, at his public appearance on Saturday, said some ministerial colleagues of Mr. Rajapaksa had promised him support.

Minister of Mass Media and Information Anura Priyadarshana Yapa told a news conference that the Opposition was engaged in a mud-slinging campaign against Mr. Rajapaksa’s family to gain political mileage.

An attack by unidentified persons on a group of journalists working for the government media, while they were on their way back from the UNP conference on Saturday, has also been the bone of contention between the ruling and Opposition parties.

The government and the free media group in Sri Lanka have condemned the attack on media personnel from the ITN and Rupavahini. The UNP has denied the charges and the police are investigating the complaints.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who was particularly targeted by the retired General, complained that the former Army chief was distorting facts to gain public sympathy.

In a television interview, the Defence Secretary, younger brother of the President, maintained that he had provided everything Gen. Fonseka had asked for from the state, including a piece of prime land in Colombo and a car worth Sri Lanka Rs. 44 million ($1 is equivalent to Sri Lankan Rs. 113).

“The President appointed Gen. Fonseka as Army Commander though the then Commander, Shantha Kottegoda, had two more years. Had that not been done, Gen. Fonseka would have retired in some other rank,” the Defence Secretary noted.

Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the channel that the moral support given by the President was a great incentive to the battling troops.

The same Opposition which once claimed that Gen. Fonseka was not even suitable to be the Commander of the Salvation Army, had announced him as its candidate, the Defence Secretary said.