Sri Lanka holds local polls as army heads to rebel capital

August 23, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka staged local elections under tight security Saturday as troops pushed deeper into Tamil Tiger territory, closing in on the rebel capital in the war-ravaged north, officials said.

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Two out of the country’s nine provinces cast ballots to elect new top local officials, without any incidents of violence reported, police said.

“We deployed about 25,000 men to guard polling booths and the reports so far suggest that the voting went off without any major incident,” a police official said.

The provinces which went to the polls — North Central and Sabaragamuwa — are not hit by fighting between troops and Tiger rebels, but the government had turned the vote into an unofficial referendum on its military strategy.

Election officials put turnout at about 60 to 65 percent of the 2.16 million eligible voters.

On Friday, the defence ministry announced troops had captured two strategic towns from the Tigers as they closed within just 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) of the rebels’ political capital of Kilinochchi in the north.

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