Voting begins near Sri Lanka’s former war zone

August 8, 2009 (AFP) – Voting for two local councils began Saturday near Sri Lanka’s former war zone, officials said, as independent media was denied access to the area. The voting is seen as a test of popularity of President Mahinda Rajapakse after his crushing victory over the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels. Election officials said voting for the Jaffna and Vavuniya municipal councils would last nine hours till Saturday evening, with nearly 125,000 people eligible to vote.

The two councils are located just outside the Wanni war zone where security forces defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in mid-May.

Media rights groups have slammed the authorities for not allowing independent media access to the region.

“It is unacceptable that the government should impose such a ban (on independent journalists) on nothing more than the vaguest security grounds,” Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said.

“As well as violating the population’s fundamental rights by preventing them from circulating freely, this measure dashes any hope of a transparent election.”

Saturday’s vote does not cover areas recently captured from the Tiger rebels but travelling to both areas