Sri Lanka president urges Tamils to back 'known devil'

Sri Lankan president, Mahinda RajapakseImage source, AFP
Image caption,
The president is disliked among Tamils for his role ending Sri Lanka's civil war

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has urged minority Tamils to back him in next week's elections, calling himself a "known devil".

Mr Rajapakse is popular among the Sinhalese majority but detested among Tamils for abuses allegedly committed against their community.

The Tamil Tiger rebels were defeated in 2009, ending a long, bloody civil war.

The main Tamil party has already endorsed Mr Rajapakse's major rival for the presidency, Maithripala Sirisena.

But Mr Rajapakse, who is seeking a third term as president, said Tamil voters should trust him.

"There is a saying that the known devil is better than the unknown angel," he told an election meeting in the mainly Tamil city of Jaffna.

He said his government had improved infrastructure in the region after the conflict ended.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Mr Rajapakse's main rival, Maithripala Sirisena, has been endorsed by the main Tamil party

"We gave you electricity, we gave you new schools and now we want to give you proper water supplies," he added.

The main opposition has accused him of using the military to deter Tamils from voting on the January 8 poll.

Both sides have been accused of atrocities in Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war that claimed up to 100,000 lives.

The death toll escalated in its final stages, when the government and rebels battled it out as thousands of civilians were hemmed in to a tiny strip of land.

Mr Rajapakse has faced accusations of increasing authoritarianism since his last victory, in the 2010 presidential elections.

Critics saw the removal of Sri Lanka's Chief Justice in 2013 amid corruption allegations as a challenge to the independence of the judiciary.