Votes counted in Sri Lanka amid allegations of foul play

TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka, May 11, 2008 (AFP) – Vote counting was underway in eastern Sri Lanka Sunday after an election marred by Tamil Tiger attacks and allegations of intimidation by allies of the island’s hawkish government. . The elections for a provincial council in the tense eastern coastal area, which was until last year partly under rebel control, are part of plans by President Mahinda Rajapakse to defeat the ethnic rebels as quickly as possible.

He wants to partially devolve power from his ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government to the TMVP, a party comprising Tamil Tiger defectors, in order to undermine guerrilla demands for a separate ethnic state.

The president, whose government only has a narrow majority in the national parliament, also badly needs a show of public support and patience as the decades-old civil war intensifies.

But the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) struck back, sinking a navy cargo ship in Trincomalee hours before polling started on Saturday in an embarrassing breach of a massive security blanket.

The LTTE said the “MV Invincible,” which was being loaded with ammunition destined for government troops fighting in the north, was holed by a Sea Tiger commando unit.

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