Sri Lankan president hurt by suicide bomb

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The Independent Online
SRI LANKA'S President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, running for re- election this week, was in intensive care in a private hospital in Colombo yesterday after yet more suicide bomb attacks by the island's rebel movement, the Tamil Tigers.

Voting in the election takes place on Tuesday, and yesterday was the last day of campaigning. Mrs Kumaratunga was getting into her car after addressing a rally of her People's Alliance in the town hall when the bomber set off the device 15ft away, killing at least 15 people, including a senior police officer.

Three cabinet ministers were said to be badly injured, while Mrs Kumaratunga sustained an eye injury. "She is hurt, but she is out of danger.... Her face was hit by the blast, but she is OK now," said Batty Weerakoon, a government minister. At almost the same time, another suicide bomber attacked an election rally of the opposition United National Party in Colombo, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 70 others.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers, have not claimed responsibility for the explosions, but the means of detonation is the organisation's horrific trademark. They have been blamed for a long series of assassinations, including a former Sri Lankan president, Ranasinghe Premadasa, and the former Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, who died when a suicide bomber draped a garland round his neck then detonated her device. The Tigers have been fighting for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka for the Tamils, the nation's largest ethnic minority, in the North East, for more than 16 years. Under the ruthless leadership of Velupillai Prabakaran, they have eliminated most voices of moderation in the Tamil community.

Jumpy young men armed with Kalashnikovs guarded the Navaloka private hospital where Mrs Kumaratunga was taken yesterday. Elected president in 1994, she called elections one year earlier than constitutionally necessary. The Tigers responded last month with a devastating military attack on positions taken in the north of the island by the Sri Lankan army over the past two years.

Mrs Kumaratunga, scion of the family that has governed Sri Lanka for half its history as an independent nation, came to power as the candidate for peace. Since the recovery of the Jaffna peninsula from the Tigers in 1995, the Sri Lankan army has been embroiled in a fierce conflict with the guerrillas, who have strongly defended their headquarters near Mulaitivu, on the north-east coast.

Prabakaran began his life as a terrorist by murdering a political enemy while still a teenager. The Tigers can now claim to be one of the most successful guerrilla forces in the world - though there is little to suggest that they can ever become partners in government. Their brutal policies towards internal dissidents and other minorities in their midst, such as Muslims and Christians, evoke the worst barbarities of Pol Pot.