Police on Saturday said hours before Sri Lankans began voting to elect a new president, gunmen fired on a convoy of buses carrying minority Muslim voters in the northwest part of the country, AFP reported.
There were no immediate reports of casualties. Police officials said the attackers burnt tyres on the road and also set up makeshift road blocks to ambush the convoy of more than 100 vehicles. “The gunmen opened fire and also pelted stones,” an unidentified police official in Thanthirimale village, 240 kilometres north of Colombo told the news agency. “At least two buses were hit, but we have no reports of casualties.”
Police said Muslims from the coastal town of Puttalam were on their way to the neighbouring Mannar district to vote. Officials reportedly reached the spot immediately and cleared the obstructions on the road. They escorted the convoy so that passengers could cast their votes.
Police informed the Election Commission that the Army was allegedly manning roadblocks to discourage voters from travelling to polling booths. “After bringing to the notice of the Army that the road blocks were illegal at a time of a national election, they have dismantled them,” they said in a statement.
About 16 million citizens are eligible to choose from 35 candidates on the ballot. Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa are the two top candidates in the race.
The candidate who obtains over 50% of the votes will win the presidency. The ballot also allows voters to choose their three top candidates in order of preference, which will determine the winner if no candidate secures over half the first place votes.
Votes will be counted soon after polling stations close that evening but the results are not expected before Sunday.
The Easter Sunday bombings on April 21, which killed at least 253 people, has sharpened tensions between majority Sinhalese and minority Muslims in the island.
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