Sri Lankan minister killed in suicide attack on marathon

The start of a marathon in Sri Lanka turned to carnage as a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber killed a government minister and 13 others by detonating a device at the race's starting line. A former Olympic athlete and the national coach were among the victims.

The bombing yesterday morning was the second this year to kill a senior minister and underlined that the rebels still have the ability to carry out devastating attacks, even though they are under an intense onslaught from government troops.

The incident happened when runners and supporters gathered for the race in the town of Weliweriya, about 12 miles from the capital, Colombo. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, 55, the Minister of Highways and a leading negotiator in the peace process talks that collapsed in 2005, approached the starting line with a flag that he was to wave to begin the race when there was a large explosion, causing people to run screaming through the streets. A former Olympic marathon runner, KA Karunaratne, and the coach of the national athletics team, Lakshman de Alwis, were also killed and up to 100 others were wounded.

"I saw severed heads, hands and legs," one witness, Nalin Warnasooriya, told the Associated Press. "Blood and body parts were everywhere."

The President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, described the attack as "dastardly", and vowed his government's military offensive would continue. Last week, the government claimed that up to 100 rebels had been killed in several days of fighting in battles in the north of the country.

In January, DM Dassanayake, the Nation-building Minister, was killed in a roadside bomb blamed on Tamil Tigers. The country's civil war has been fought since the early Eighties, and more than 70,000 fighters and civilians have died.