Sri Lanka govt claims victory in key provincial polls

TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka, May 11, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s government Sunday claimed victory in key provincial elections in the ethnically-mixed east of the island, saying the win is a major boost for its war against the Tamil Tigers. Election officials confirmed the government and its allies were on track to win control over a 35-member provincial council in the east coastal region, a part of which was under rebel control before an offensive last year.

“The government victory at the eastern polls has shattered the wild dreams of the West-backed Eelamists (Tamil Tigers),” said Sri Lanka’s environment minister, Patali Champika Ranawaka.

He said the results has proved “not only Sinhalese but even Tamils have placed their faith in the government.”

The elections on Saturday are part of plans by President Mahinda Rajapakse to boost the war effort against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who still control a swathe of jungle in the north.

The president wants to partially devolve power from his ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government to the TMVP, a party of Tamil Tiger defectors based in the east, to undermine guerrilla demands for a separate ethnic state. .