Bomb blasts leave Lankan president hurt, several dead


Suicide bomber sets off blast at rally and another explosion reported at an opposition meeting; curfew imposed.

Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga was wounded in a bomb blast set off by a suicide bomber at a rally which left at least 15 dead and 90 injured moments before a second explosion ripped through an opposition meeting killing several, officials said.

Kumaratunga was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit of the private Nawaloka hospital, a police spokesman told AFP. K. Balapathabendi, secretary to the president, said on state television she had suffered minor injuries.

At least three senior ministers and some foreign journalists, including a Japanese television crew and a Reuters photographer, were also wounded and in hospital.

The police spokesman said Colombo’s police chief, deputy Inspector-General T.N. de Silva was among those killed at the rally.

Nobody had taken responsibility for the blast and the government had not yet accused anyone of involvement.

Police said a woman suicide bomber exploded herself in a bid to kill the president.

The woman was getting ready to embrace Kumaratunga, just as she was due to leave Colombo’s Town Hall square after addressing her final election rally before Tuesday’s presidential polls.

“The woman was prevented from getting close to the president,” the police official said. “Several of the president’s bodyguards were killed.”

Kumaratunga may have to be given blood as she was hit by shrapnel as she was about to get into her car, he said. Police and army sealed off the area around the central Colombo bomb site and the road leading to the private hospital where Kumaratunga was being treated.

Authorities imposed a curfew on the capital and the adjoining district of Gampha with immediate effect.

At almost the same time a second explosion ripped through an opposition rally outside the capital Colombo, killing an opposition United National Party (UNP) activist and former army general Lucky Algama, police said.

There were no further reports from the second attack on the UNP meeting at Ja-Ela, just north of the capital Colombo. A witness said the president was speaking to some supporters and was about to get into her car.

Heavily-armed police and commandos ringed the area located in the Cinnamon Gardens diplomatic quarter of the capital.

Singer Oanduka Samarasekara said he saw about 15 people fallen after the blast.

“I saw about 15 people fallen on the ground. There was a lot of blood, but I saw the president being driven away,” a visibly-shaken Samarasekara said.

The blast occurred in an area where everyone had been body searched before being permitted into the grounds because of fears Kumaratunga is a top target for Tamil Tiger guerillas.

The two attacks came at the end of a blood-splattered campaign for Sri Lanka’s presidency, which goes to a vote on Tuesday.

Five people have been killed and many more wounded in poll-related violence while opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe escaped an assassination bid during the month-long campaigning, officials and poll monitors have said.

Mrs Kumaratunga is facing a close contest in the presidential election and is running neck-and-neck with Mr Wickremesinghe. – AFP, Reuters

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