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Lanka opposition leader dies in attack

October 07, 2008

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COLOMBO, Oct 6: A Tamil Tiger suicide bomber triggered a blast inside offices of the main opposition party in Sri Lanka on Monday, killing at least 27 people, including a retired senior general, officials said.

The attack in the northern town of Anuradhapura came as the Sri Lankan military appeared on the verge of capturing the Tigers’ key headquarters as part of a major offensive in the drawn-out ethnic conflict.

“The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) set off a suicide explosion. There are a large number of casualties. At least 27 are dead and 80 injured,” said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.

The blast killed the provincial head of the United National Party (UNP), retired army general Janaka Perera, who was about to speak at a ceremony to open the offices when the attack occurred.

Officials said it was likely he had been directly targeted by the blast, which left many of the dead slumped beside overturned blue plastic chairs put out for the morning event.

“Buddhist monks had just conducted prayers when Perera got up to address the gathering, and then the blast took place,” one eyewitness, who declined to be named, told AFP.

“There was chaos and the smell of blood in the air, with bodies thrown everywhere and people crying,” he said.

Perera, whose wife was also killed, was a prominent war veteran credited with some of the army’s biggest victories over the Tigers, including a 1996 battle in which 200 rebels were killed with the loss of just one soldier.

The UNP officially supports a negotiated settlement with the Tigers and says the current offensive is being used by the government for political ends.

Among those killed on Monday was a female television reporter filming the opening ceremony, said her employer, the privately run Sirasa network.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse denounced the attack, saying the Tigers were “making every attempt to create violent backlashes” after suffering a series of setbacks.

The army said at the weekend that its troops are within 2km of the northern rebel headquarters in Kilinochchi.

Losing control of Kilinochchi would be a major blow to the Tigers, who took up arms in 1972, demanding minority rights. In 1976 they raised the stakes, demanding a separate Tamil state.

As the political capital of the LTTE’s northern mini-state, Kilinochchi is where the rebels have hosted visiting foreign dignitaries and peace brokers.

The Tigers, who are known for their suicide attacks, have put up only intermittent resistance to the military advancing on several fronts in the north of Sri Lanka.—AFP