Sri Lanka leader catapulted to top: The simple and unassuming man who stepped into Premadasa's shoes may yet surprise

SRI LANKA'S former prime minister and acting President, Dingiri Banda Wijetunge - a man whom most Sri Lankans regarded as a figurehead - has found himself in high office almost by accident.

Mr Wijetunge, 71, a simple and unassuming man, never expected to become prime minister, let alone head of state. When he was nominated in 1989 he expressed 'complete surprise'. Now Ranasinghe Premadasa's assassination has catapulted him into the limelight, where he is likely to remain until presidential elections at the end of next year.

Sri Lanka's parliament meets today to determine a date for the nomination of the new president to serve out Premadasa's term. The government has already chosen Mr Wijetunge. The opposition, who had earlier announced they would nominate Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, are now undecided whether to enter the contest. But in any event, the opposition cannot muster a majority.

Sahul Hameed, one of the ministers who nominated Mr Wijetunge - like the late president a devout Buddhist, a vegetarian and a teetotaller - explained why. 'The country has witnessed two assassinations in the last 10 days and the people are horrified. There has to be continuity - someone who can hold the government together. DB has been in public life for half a century. His simplicity is borne out of rich experience.'

Mr Wijetunge may yet surprise people. Admirers say he may be considered to be ineffectual but could surprise his critics. 'I think Wijetunge will blossom,' said a Western diplomat. 'He's been cast in the role of a blind loyalist. But I've had very close dealings with him and I've found him alert and intelligent.'

Most analysts feel it is essential to continue the government's economic progress. Under Premadasa's liberalisation programmes, designed to turn Sri Lanka from a socialist state into a market economy, stock market capitalisation rose to dollars 2bn ( pounds 1.3bn) in the last 18 months. Foreign investment, at dollars 200m last year, and tourism have risen to almost pre-civil war levels.

The appointment of Mr Wijetunge, who was also finance minister, is intended to preserve this trend. For now, most foreign bankers are gloomy. 'International investors are savvy people,' said a Western banker. 'One little thing tips the balance.'

Yesterday Premadasa's body was moved from the house in the oldest and poorest part of the city, where had lived until his death, to his official residence, President's House. The funeral on Thursday will be heavily guarded, following unconfirmed reports of possible further assassination attempts on opposition leaders.

Police said the suicide killer who claimed 24 lives and left 36 injured was a Tamil guerrilla who lived in a boarding house near the residence. Gruesome pictures of the assassin's severed head were published yesterday, requesting the public to call with information. A fragment of a cyanide capsule in his neck points to the man being a Tamil Tiger.

Security forces patrolled the streets of Colombo yesterday but life was returning to normal. Military officials said there were no signs of violence or any hostile reaction against Tamils, who allege discrimination by the majority Sinhalese and have been fighting for a homeland in the north and east since 1983.

Reaction to the official announcement blaming Premadasa's death on Tamil separatists was mixed. Some said only Tamil rebels were known to carry out suicide attacks but others wondered whether a Premadasa rival could have been responsible.

(Photograph omitted)

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little