Sri Lanka polls open for tense presidential election

January 26, 2010 (AFP) – Pre-dawn bomb blasts in Sri Lanka’s Tamil heartland escalated tensions as the country went to the polls Tuesday in the first presidential election since the end of its 37-year ethnic conflict. The bomb attacks in the northern peninsula of Jaffna were a violent start to an already bitter contest between President Mahinda Rajapakse and his former army chief Sarath Fonseka that threatens more instability in the island nation.

“We have a complaint that two bombs were thrown at the home of Subramaniam Sharma, an organiser for the (ruling) Sri Lanka Freedom Party,” the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) spokesman D. M. Dissanayake said.

It was not immediately clear who carried out the attack, he said.

Last May, Rajapakse and Fonseka wiped out Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels, who had fought for a Tamil homeland since 1972, in a military campaign since dogged by allegations of war crimes.

But from close allies on the battlefield they have turned into irreconcilable enemies after Fonseka, a 59-year-old political novice, decided to challenge his former boss at the ballot box on an anti-corruption platform. There are no reliable opinion polls in the country and political obs