Bombs fail to halt Sri Lanka election

SRI LANKA'S president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, who escaped assassination in a suicide bombing at the weekend at her final rally, said tomorrow's elections will go ahead.

She was treated in Colombo for an eye injury said to be minor. But 22 people died in the attack when a man in women's clothing detonated a bomb around his waist as Mrs Kumaratunga was about to get into her car. Almost simultaneously a blast 15km away at a rally by Mrs Kumaratunga's election rival, Ranil Wickremesinghe, killed 11 people.

It was assumed the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were responsible. Commentators had seen indications that the LTTE was inclining towards Mr Wickremesinghe and his United National Party. The bombing of both parties' meetings was a way of indicating that the Tigers are neutral.

The small change of political debate in Sri Lanka is that the war between the Sinhalese government and the LTTE goes on because it is in the politicians' interests. Mrs Kumaratunga's escape exposes that view as far- fetched to say the least. The Tigers' supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, has put another question mark over the effectiveness of Mrs Kumaratunga, who in her five years in power has vacillated between pacific and belligerent positions.

Yet Mr Wickremesinghe, who has offered the Tigers peace talks, cannot draw much comfort from the latest atrocities either. His party remains squarely in the line of fire.

"The LTTE has made clear it wants Mrs Kumaratunga out of the picture ... and this may harden attitudes of many Sinhalese against the LTTE," said Jehan Perera, a political analyst. "My feeling is that this will create a sympathy vote and will help her in the election."