'Suicide blast' kills nine in Sri Lanka

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The Independent Online

Nine people, including seven policemen, were killed when a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber on a motorbike rammed a bus in the Sri Lankan capital today.

Doctors at the National Hospital in Colombo said seven policemen and two civilians were killed and more than 85 people were wounded in the blast, which happened in a commercial quarter of the capital near the Hilton Hotel.

The area is a high security zone that is also the site of the Sri Lanka's presidential office and military headquarters.

The military blamed Tamil Tiger rebels for the attack. The Tigers, who routinely deny involvement in such attacks, were not immediately available for comment.

"The target was a police bus and a motorbike had crashed into the police bus," said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.

Fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has intensified since the government formally pulled out of a 6-year-old ceasefire pact in January, though a renewed civil war has been raging since 2006.

The latest attack came as the Sri Lankan military presses on with an offensive to retake the Tigers' northern stronghold.

The Tigers are fighting for an independent state in the north and east of the island in a 25-year civil war that has killed an estimated 70,000 people.

Analysts say the military has the upper hand in the latest phase of the long-running war given superior air power, strength of numbers and swathes of terrain captured in the island's east. But they still see no clear winner on the horizon.

The Tigers are regularly hitting back with suicide attacks increasingly targeting civilians and roadside bombs, experts and the military say, which have deterred tourists and have worried some investors in the $27 billion economy.