Sri Lankan presidential election marred by violence

Sri Lankans headed to the polls to elect a new president Saturday amid violence potentially aimed at keeping minorities from voting, police said.

Sri Lankan voters stand in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station during presidential elections in Weerawila, Sri Lanka, on Saturday. Photo by Stringer

Thirty-five candidates are seeking the top post but Al Jazeera reports two are the top contenders — former Defense Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa and United National Party candidate Sajith Premadasa. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, representing the Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalist party, is the brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Guardian reported the race between the two men was expected to be close, with minority Muslim and Tamil groups figuring heavily into the outcome.

Local election officials, like Ratnajeevan Hoole, worried about violence targeting such groups.

The Muslims “asked for polling booths in the areas where they are living without having to travel a long distance to their original village to vote,” he said. “They were sure that a disturbance like this would happen.”

Gunman attacked buses transporting hundreds Muslim voters to a polling station. They also set up roadblocks, stoping a convoy with more than 100 vehicles.

“The gunmen opened fire and also pelted stones,” an official in the town of Tantirimale told The Guardian. “At least two buses were hit, but we have no reports of casualties.”

Election observers said they observed at least 139 electoral violations, including two instances of assault and 41 cases of intimidating.

ByDanielle Haynes