Ex-Sri Lankan strongman's supporters oppose war crimes probe

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) " Tens of thousands of supporters of Sri Lanka's former president marched to the capital on Monday to accuse the government of betraying the nation by agreeing with the United Nations to investigate allegations of war crimes during the country's civil war.

The protesters reached Colombo after marching for several days from the central town of Kandy.

They also accused the government of wanting to divide the country by granting more powers to ethnic minority Tamils and of agreeing to trade agreements unfavorable to Sri Lanka.

The protest was the largest show of strength by former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa since he lost a re-election bid last year. He is currently a lawmaker.

The government says the protest is part of pressure tactics aimed at blocking investigations into alleged corruption and misrule by the former government.

Sri Lankan authorities pledged last year at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of war crimes during the final phase of the country's 26-year civil war. Government soldiers ended the war in 2009 by crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which had fought for an independent state for the country's ethnic minority Tamils.

According to a U.N. report, some 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians may have been killed in the final months of the war.

Government soldiers were accused of deliberately targeting civilians and hospitals and blocking food convoys for civilians. The rebels were accused of holding civilians as human shields and recruiting child soldiers.

Rajapaksa, who led the military campaign to defeat the rebels, has denied any right violations.

Pro-Rajapaksa lawmaker Wimal Weerawansa told the protesters that the government is trying to punish soldiers who fought for the country and spoil their efforts by agreeing to share power with Tamils.

The government has begun a process to draft a new constitution that is to include increased power-sharing.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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