Monks to contest Sri Lanka poll

More than 280 Buddhist monks contesting next month's Sri Lankan election have launched their manifesto to turn the country into a "righteous state".

The monks, who represent the National Heritage Party, say their aim is to protect Buddhism and clean up political corruption. They also oppose devolution of power to Sri Lanka's Tamil minority.

Correspondents say the move by the monks to contest the polls has triggered controversy in the predominantly Buddhist nation.

The red-robed monks launched their campaign from the historic temple town of Kelaniya before driving to the country's holiest Buddhist shrine, the Temple of the Tooth, in Kandy, where they released their manifesto.

Hundreds of supporters prayed with the monks at dawn with many women participating, wearing white and carrying lotus flowers.

"If the Buddha is true and if the teachings of the Buddha are right, we shall have a righteous state in this country," monk Kotapola Amarakiththi told the gathering.

Opposed to 'federalism'

The monks said Tamil politicians, the rebel Tamil Tigers and the government were conspiring to divide their country.

"Federalism is rejected. Our first and ultimate target is the unity of the country," another monk, Omalpe Sobitha, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

"There can be no division under any circumstances."

The Tamil Tiger rebels have been pushing for a greater share of power in an attempt to end three decades of ethnic conflict.

But the monks oppose any concessions to the minority Tamils, who are Hindus.

Critics say the selection of the monks by the National Heritage Party is just a publicity stunt by a party that has failed to win many seats in the past.

But the BBC's Frances Harrison in Colombo says many mainstream politicians fear that the monks may attract voters who want to register a protest against the parties that have dominated Sri Lankan politics for decades.

Campaign violence

In the latest violence in the election campaign, a member of a Tamil party bitterly opposed to the rebels was killed in the eastern town of Valachchenai on Monday night.

The Eelam People's Democratic Party said the dead man, Ponniah Yogendran, was actively involved in their election campaign and blamed the Tamil Tigers for the killing.

The news came as the US State Department urged the rebels to act responsibly in the run-up to the elections, following the killing of Tamil candidate Sinnathamby Sunderpillai in Batticaloa.

It said that recent statements by the Tamil Tigers were intended to discourage Tamil candidates of whom the rebels disapproved.

The State Department said violent actions of this sort not only raised doubts about the commitment of the Tigers to a political solution, but also justified their proscription as a terrorist group in the United States.