Tamil party heads for big win in Sri Lanka vote

Sri Lanka's main Tamil party was Sunday headed for victory in the first regional elections to a semi-autonomous council in the island's north after decades of ethnic war.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) swept three of the five districts declared so far following Saturday's Northern Provincial Council elections, official results showed.

The TNA bagged 11 out of the 15 seats declared so far in the council with a total of 36 seats elected directly. Two more seats go to the largest single party under a system of proportional representation and the TNA is set to take both.

President Mahinda Rajapakse's United People's Freedom Alliance was a distant second with just four of the 15 seats declared.

The TNA, which has vowed to press a demand for "self-rule" for Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamils in the majority Sinhalese nation of 20 million, won the districts of Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mullaittivu and was leading by huge margins in the other districts, including Jaffna.

The government said 68 percent of the 719,000 electorate in the Northern Province turned out to vote Saturday.

The TNA, a coalition that includes moderate Tamils, former Tiger militants and their opponents, has charged that the military was intimidating their supporters and forcing them to stay away from voting.

Elections officials said they had "plenty of complaints", but there were no major incidents during a nine-hour voting period on Saturday.

aj/ia