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Thousands rally in support of Mahinda’s PM candidacy

(Photos: BBC Sinhala)

Tens of thousands of supporters of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa staged a rally in Nugegoda, calling on him to stand as a prime ministerial candidate in elections later this year.

In a written statement, read out by former government official Dayan Jayatillake, Mr Rajapaksa said he could not ignore their wishes and will make a return to politics.

"What we are experiencing today is not a defeat but a result of a conspiracy," he said in the message. "I say firmly that I am in anyway unable to ignore the wishes of those of you who think about the country and are committed for the country."

The National Freedom Front’s Wimal Weerawansa, a former minister under the former president, said the new government's plans to lift travel restrictions to the former northern war zone, moves to release land occupied by the military and a promise to the United Nations to conduct its own inquiry into war crimes allegations risked the country's unity.

Buddhist nationalist organisation were also well represented at the rally with the Bodu Bala Sena chief Gnanasara and the head of Ravana Balaya Saddatissa both in attendance.