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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 18:34 GMT
Sri Lanka's Marxist leader ends exile
A policeman stands guard in Colombo
Security has been tightened ahead of the elections
By the BBC's Frances Harrison in Colombo

The leader of Sri Lanka's influential Marxist party has returned from a 12 year exile to address thousands of his supporters in advance of general elections in early December.

Somawansa Amarasinghe, once a wanted man for his part in a bloody Marxist uprising in which tens of thousands of people were killed, returned with a warning that this time his party could not be crushed.

He was given a hero's welcome by die-hard supporters waving red flags, braving hours of pouring rain.

For many, it was the first glimpse of the rebel leader who spent years in exile, most recently in Britain.

Mr Amarasinghe is the only surviving politbureau member from the Marxist uprising in the late 1980s.

All his other colleagues were assassinated in a brutal military crackdown by the United National Party government which was in power at the time.

Controversial return

Mr Amarasinghe's return to Sri Lanka is deeply controversial.

A poster of Chandrika Kumaratunga
The Marxists appear to be siding with President Kumaratunga

For many, he is a figure to be feared, and some opposition United National Party politicians have even called for his arrest.

They allege that his party was responsible for the murder of up to 6,000 people when he was among its top leaders.

But in his first public appearance, Mr Amarasinghe said the figure quoted for the number of people who had died in the Marxist uprising is 60,000.

That means, he said, that the then United National Party government must have killed ten times more people than the Marxists.

The JVP, or People's Liberation Front, which is the third largest party in Sri Lanka, once espoused a blend of ethnic nationalism and revolutionary struggle.

But in this election, it appears to be siding with the party of the President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, hence the fact that its legendary leader has been allowed to return home.

See also:

24 May 01 | South Asia
Timeline: Sri Lanka
10 Oct 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka president calls snap poll
04 Sep 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka Marxists to back president
06 Sep 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka pact defended
19 Jul 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Sri Lanka's political rivals
27 Apr 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka: An unwinnable war?
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