Rajapaksa vows new approach in poll campaign

COLOMBO, July 18

Sri Lanka’s former president said he has learned from his election defeat and promised a new approach to relations between ethnic communities, as he runs for prime minister in next month’s elections.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was defeated in January presidential polls, launched his political comeback campaign in the northwestern city of Anuradhapura yesterday.

In a speech, Rajapaksa denied allegations of corruption and misrule and said he was a victim of false propaganda.

Rajapaksa was credited with defeating minority Tamil separatists in a civil war, but accused of fanning divisions while sustaining his ethnic Sinhalese voting bloc.

He was also accused of autocratic rule and nepotism.

“Just as in victory we have also learnt from defeat,” Rajapaksa told his supporters. “I must tell you that we will come before you with fresh thinking, We will think anew on international relations, we will think of new ways to build relationships between communities.”

The Rajapaksa administration had strained relations with the United States, India and the Europe Union because of his heavy pro-China policy and failure to heed requests to investigate allegations of war crimes in the final stages of the civil war in 2009.

Rajapaksa’s successor, President Maithripala Sirisena, has changed the heavy China leaning.

According to a United Nations report, some 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of the fighting.  The UN human rights body is scheduled to release a report on the allegations in September.

If Rajapaksa’s party secures a majority in Parliament, he can become prime minister, a step away from president.