By Duncan Mackay 

Mahinda Rajapaksa_in_Perth_for_CHOGMOctober 28 - Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa (pictured) has defended his country's human rights record and accused critics, including the Australian and Canadian Prime Ministers Julia Gillard and Stephen Harper, of being taken in by propaganda.

The issue of Sri Lanka's human rights record is threatening to cause a major split at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which opened in Perth today and is being attended by the Queen, and undermine Hambantota's bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Sri Lankan Government forces are accused of committing atrocities against the Tamil Tigers during a final push that defeated the separatists in 2009, with accusations that the military killed tens of thousands of civilians.

It has led to calls for Rajapaksa to be put on trial for war crimes and for Sri Lanka to be expelled from the Commonwealth. 

Harper, meanwhile, has warned that unless Rajapaksa addresses the issues seriously he will oppose Hambantota's bid to host the Commonwealth Games, as well as Sri Lanka hosting the 2013 CHOGM.

Mahinda Rajapaksa__with_Julia_Gillard_Perth_October_27_2011Gillard has already raised the issue with Rajapakse (pictured) during talks in Perth.

Hambantota's only rival to host the Games is from Australian city, the Gold Coast.

But Rajapaksa, who is being accompanied in Perth by Sri Lanka's Sports Minister Mahindananada Aluthgamage, the co-chairman of Hambantota 2018, has angrily denied the allegations.

"I would tell anybody not to listen to the propagandists," he said.

"We have come [to Perth] with an open mind and open heart.

"The problem is not ours.

"We don't have an issue.

"I would tell anybody not to listen to the propagandists.

"There is so much money spent on propaganda and that is exactly what they [the critics] are doing.

"It was a very well-orchestrated campaign because of CHOGM."

But Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International, has claimed that Sri Lanka should not be given a leading role in the Commonwealth until the issues are resolved. 

"Commonwealth countries share a commitment to basic values including democracy, freedom, peace and rule of law," Shetty wrote in an opinion piece for The West Australian newspaper.

"Allowing Sri Lanka to head the Commonwealth runs contrary to these values and threatens to derail the organisation's commitment to human rights."

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