Former prime minister dies as Sri Lankans go to the polls

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The Independent Online

With Government and Tamil Tiger guns thundering in the far northern Jaffna peninsula, Sri Lanka went to the polls yesterday to elect a government either to back or thwart President Chandrika Kumaratunga - who was re-elected in December - in her attempt to end the island republic's 14-year civil war.

With Government and Tamil Tiger guns thundering in the far northern Jaffna peninsula, Sri Lanka went to the polls yesterday to elect a government either to back or thwart President Chandrika Kumaratunga - who was re-elected in December - in her attempt to end the island republic's 14-year civil war.

The President's mother, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who was a largely ceremonial prime minister until retiring two months ago, cast her vote in her home town of Gampaha, 35km east of Colombo, then suffered a heart attack in her car. She was taken to a nursing home where she was pronounced dead. She was 84.

The widow of the late prime minister Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, Mrs Bandaranaike became the world's first female prime minister in 1960. The jury was out yesterday on whether her death might provide her daughter's ruling People's Alliance coalition with a wave of sympathy.

Mrs Kumaratunga almost certainly clinched December's presidential election thanks to public sympathy following a suicide bomb attack in which she nearly lost an eye. But the support was also seen as a rebuff to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, presumed to have ordered her death.

The run-up to yesterday's election was bloody, with more than 60 people killed in Tiger suicide bombings and inter-party fighting, but the voting itself was said to have been largely peaceful.

However, the People's Liberation Front, one of a record 128 parties contesting the election, claimed that the poll was unfair. A spokesman for the front said: "We have received reports of violence and intimidation in certain areas of the country." More than 40,000 police and paramilitaries guarded polling stations.

The two leading contenders for power, Mrs Kumaratunga's People's Alliance and the United National Party of Ranil Wickremasinghe, disagree on how to end the war being waged by the Tamil Tigers for an ethnic homeland in the north and east.

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