Sri Lanka minister among 12 killed in suicide blast

April 6th, 2008 - 1:54 pm ICT by admin  

(Third Lead)
By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, April 6 (IANS) A Sri Lankan cabinet minister who was a confidant of President Mahinda Rajapaksa was among 12 people killed outside Colombo Sunday morning in a powerful blast blamed on a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber. The government identified the minister as Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, 55, who held the highways portfolio and was the chief government whip in parliament. He was the treasurer and chief organiser of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

At least 90 people were also wounded in the deafening explosion minutes before the start of a traditional marathon race held as part of a ‘Hindu-Sinhala’ event at Waliweriya in the Western province, about 50 km from here.

The defence ministry said many of the dead and wounded were civilians. It called the bombing a “cowardly bomb attack”.

South Asian marathon gold medallist K.A. Karunaratne was among the dead.

“The bomb was exploded just before the minister was to declare the start of the marathon at the Kanthi playground,” the ministry said.

Hospital sources said three of the wounded, including Gampaha Senior Superintendent of Police Hector Darmasiri, were in serious condition. Almost all the injured were warded in hospitals.

Government spokesman and Minister of Media Anurapriyadharshana Yapa blamed the attack on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“The government vehemently condemns this brutal terrorist attack against the minister and the innocent civilians. The government is determined to wipe out terrorism (from) the island nation,” Yapa said.

Sri Lankan authorities use “terrorists” as a synonym for the LTTE.

The attack triggered panic. Police and soldiers soon cordoned off the bloodied attack site.

Once a lawyer, Fernandopulle entered parliament in 1983 representing the SLFP. He has held many ministerial portfolios including those of Catholic affairs, ethnic integration and national unity as well as port and aviation.

Fernandopulle is the second minister to be assassinated since January, when the Rajapaksa government pulled out of the Norway-brokered ceasefire agreement it signed with the LTTE in February 2002.

On Jan 8, non-cabinet minister for nation building D.M. Dassanayake, 54, was killed with his bodyguard when a powerful claymore hit his luxury jeep at Ja Ela on the Colombo-Negombo main highway.

Dassanayake was on his way to Colombo to attend parliament at the time of the incident.

The latest killing comes even as Sri Lankan troops are battling hard to capture areas held by the LTTE in the island’s north. Thousands have died in fighting in the turbulent northeast in the past two years.

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