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Thursday, December 23, 1999
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Chandrikare-elected President

COLOMBO, Dec 22 (PTI) — Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga was today sworn in as Sri Lanka’s President for the second consecutive term, immediately after she was re-elected to office riding on the crest of a sympathy wave following an abortive assassination attempt by the LTTE, and made a fervent plea to militant cadres to prevail upon their leader V. Prabhakran to return to the negotiating table “without further delay”.

Ms Kumaratunga, 54, who still sported a bandaged eye wounded in Saturday’s LTTE suicide bomb attack on her in the run-up to the polls, was sworn in by Chief Justice Sarath N Desilva at a hastily arranged ceremony at her official residence here. Immediately afterwards, she reconstituted her cabinet.

Prime Minister and Kumaratunga’s mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike was conspicuous by her absence at the function.

In an emotional speech afterwards, Kumaratunga, who bagged a little more than 51.21 per cent of votes, well down from the record 62 per cent of the 1994 polls, extended an invitation to Opposition presidential contender Ranil Wickremesinghe, to work for a consensus to solve the ethnic conflict in the country. Mr Wickremesinghe of the United National Party could only manage 43 per cent of the votes.

“I stretch out my hand to join this government, both you and your supporters,” she said urging the Opposition leader to fulfil his commitments made in this regard.

Ms Kumaratunga, pledged to work for peace, her main poll plank, and appealed to the country’s Tamil minority to reject the LTTE and “the violence and hatred they stand for” and prevail upon it to return to peace talks.

“You must see the light of peace. I urge you to use every ounce of the influence at your disposal to bring Prabhakaran to the negotiating table without any further delay. I urge you to persuade with every conceivable argument, anyone who is a supporter of the LTTE to renounce violence and join us in establishing peace,” she said wiping away tears.

Earlier, Mr Wickremesinghe struck a conciliatory approach when he met the Election Commissioner in a televised ceremony. He refrained from making any allegations and only drew the latter’s attention to allegations of electoral malpractices made by other parties.

AP adds: Monitoring groups, however, said that the election was flawed by flagrant violations. The Independent centre for Monitoring Election violence said the poll was marred by serious election violations, systematic impersonations and ballot stuffing.

“The results of the election have been irredeemably compromised,” said the organisation’s director Paikiyasothy Saravanamuttu. Because of the irregularities, the monitors said the election should be nullified in the entire northeast region and polling held yet again.

Together with other districts, the monitoring centre said “for over one-third of the country, the 1999 presidential election was a less than satisfactory exercise in democracy.”

Another monitor, Kingsley Rodrigo, said the centre had received more than 350 complaints of election violence.

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