Sri Lankan minister killed in suicide attack, toll up to 14

April 6th, 2008 - 8:30 pm ICT by admin  

(Fourth Lead)
By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, April 6 (IANS) The toll in Sunday’s suicide attack, which killed a top ranking Sri Lankan minister, has risen to 14 even as 90 people are admitted in hospital with serious injuries, the defence ministry said. Minister of Highways and Road Development Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, 55, who was a confidant of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was killed in a powerful blast blamed on a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber at Weliweriya, about 30 km from here.

“An LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) suicide cadre blew himself up when the minister, who was the chief guest of the opening ceremony of the road marathon, reached to the runners for flagging off the race,” the defence ministry said.

“K.A. Karunarathna, the former national marathon champion and South Asian marathon gold medalist, Lashman Alwis, the national athletic coach and Chief Inspector K.D.R Kannangara, personnel security officer to the minister, were also among the dead,” it said.

Claiming that 12 bodies have already been identified from the blast site, the ministry said some of the 90 wounded “are in critical condition”.

“The late minister’s remains would be brought to parliament for the MPs to pay their last respect on Monday and there will be a state-funeral on Thursday,” the president’s media director Chandrapala Liyanage told IANS Sunday evening.

President Rajapaksa condemned the killing of his senior cabinet minister, calling it as “an act of savagery” of the Tamil Tiger rebels, and said such attacks would not weaken his government’s resolve to wipe out terrorism from the island nation.

Fernandopulle entered parliament in 1983, representing the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

He held many ministerial portfolios, including those of Catholic affairs, ethnic integration and national unity as well as port and aviation.

Last week he was appointed organiser for the Trincomalee district for the forthcoming provincial council elections.

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

On Jan 8, Minister for Nation Building D.M. Dassanayake, 54, was killed with his bodyguard when a powerful claymore mine hit his luxury jeep at Ja-Ela on the Colombo-Negombo main highway.

The latest killing comes even as Sri Lankan troops are locked in fierce clashes to capture areas held by the LTTE in the island’s north.

Thousands have died in fighting in the turbulent northern and eastern regions in the past two years.

There was no immediate reaction from LTTE, which has never claimed or accepted responsibility any such attacks.

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