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Fear looms in Sri Lanka’s first post-Easter attack election

Polls have opened in Sri Lanka’s presidential election after weeks of campaigning that largely focused on national security and religious extremism in the backdrop of the deadly Islamic State-inspired suicide bomb attacks on Easter Sunday.

Nearly 16 million of the island nation’s 22 million people are eligible to vote Saturday and choose a new president from a record 35 candidates.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defense official under his brother, ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was widely expected to triumph over ruling party Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa. But as the election approached, the race has become very close.

Sri Lankan police officers and polling workers wait to set off for their respective polling stations, outside a material distribution center in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Worries about Islamic extremism will be paramount for many Sri Lankan voters while others hope to block former leaders accused of human rights violations from returning to power in Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first national polls since last Easter’s deadly suicide attacks. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)

The Rajapaksa brothers are revered by Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority for defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009 after nearly 30 years of civil war. Some minorities fear their return.

Sri Lankan police officers and polling workers wait to set off for their respective polling stations, outside a material distribution center in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Worries about Islamic extremism will be paramount for many Sri Lankan voters while others hope to block former leaders accused of human rights violations from returning to power in Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first national polls since last Easter’s deadly suicide attacks. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)

Sri Lankan police officers and polling workers wait to set off for their respective polling stations outside a material distribution center in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Worries about Islamic extremism will be paramount for many Sri Lankan voters while others hope to block former leaders accused of human rights violations from returning to power in Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first national polls since last Easter’s deadly suicide attacks. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)

A Sri Lankan polling worker sits in a bus transporting polling material, outside a material distribution center in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Worries about Islamic extremism will be paramount for many Sri Lankan voters while others hope to block former leaders accused of human rights violations from returning to power in Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first national polls since last Easter’s deadly suicide attacks. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)

A Sri Lankan polling worker holds a bundle of ballot papers outside a material distribution center in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Worries about Islamic extremism will be paramount for many Sri Lankan voters while others hope to block former leaders accused of human rights violations from returning to power in Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first national polls since last Easter’s deadly suicide attacks. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)

A Sri Lankan police officer and polling workers wait to set off for their respective polling stations outside a material distribution center in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Worries about Islamic extremism will be paramount for many Sri Lankan voters while others hope to block former leaders accused of human rights violations from returning to power in Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first national polls since last Easter’s deadly suicide attacks. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)

A Sri Lankan polling worker carries ballot papers and boxes to a bus outside a material distribution center as they transport them to polling centers in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Worries about Islamic extremism will be paramount for many Sri Lankan voters while others hope to block former leaders accused of human rights violations from returning to power in Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first national polls since last Easter’s deadly suicide attacks. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)

A Sri Lankan polling worker loads ballot papers and boxes onto a bus outside a material distribution center as they transport them to polling centers in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Worries about Islamic extremism will be paramount for many Sri Lankan voters while others hope to block former leaders accused of human rights violations from returning to power in Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first national polls since last Easter’s deadly suicide attacks. (AP PhotoEranga Jayawardena)