Sri Lanka suicide bomber kills 19 at poll rally

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The Independent Online

At least 19 people were killed yesterday by a suspected suicide bomber at an election rally in Sri Lanka, as poll-related violence intensified one week before the country's parliamentary elections.

At least 19 people were killed yesterday by a suspected suicide bomber at an election rally in Sri Lanka, as poll-related violence intensified one week before the country's parliamentary elections.

The bomb blast happened at Muttur, 150 miles east of the capital Colombo and came at the end of a rally in support of Mohommed Bayatullaha, a candidate of the ruling People's Alliance, who was one of the 19 killed in the blast.

"The candidate ... was killed and initial reports suggest it was a suicide bomb attack," said Brigadier Sanath Karunaratnethe, a military spokesman. He said Mr Bayatullaha was a retired police intelligence officer and had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by Tamil Tiger rebels four years ago.

In another incident, the Sri Lankan Muslim leader, MLAM Hizbullah, narrowly escaped a second assassination attempt in three days when his convoy ran over a mine near Battacaloa, which lies 130 miles north-east of Colombo.

Two policemen were wounded when their jeep, which was travelling ahead of Mr. Hizbullah's vehicle, hit a mine. The other people injured in the incident included bystanders.

Mr. Hizbullah is senior vice-president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, which has been campaigning with the ruling People's Alliance. Mr Hizbullah's party represents the 1.1 million-strong Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

On Saturday, he was saved by his bulletproof vehicle when attackers, who have not been identified, opened fire on the car as his convoy stopped to let a cattle herd pass about 12 miles north of Batticaloa.

At least 30 people have been killed in bomb attacks and clashes between rival political factions since campaigning for the October 10 elections began one month ago.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are fighting for a separate state for minority Tamils in the country's north and east, have stepped up their attacks across the island ahead of the elections.

Meanwhile, the government's war on the rebels shows no sign of letting up. A military spokesman said yesterday that the air force had destroyed several rebel gun positions in northern Jaffna peninsula at the weekend. On Sunday, the army repelled a rebel attack at Eluthumadduval, 21 miles south-east of Jaffna city, the spokesman added.

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