Sri Lanka minister killed by bomb blast
COLOMBO (Reuters) - Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels killed a Sri Lankan minister with a roadside bomb north of the capital on Tuesday, officials said, the second MP killed in a week as a protracted civil war escalates.
Nation Building Minister D.M. Dassanayake, whose vehicle was hit by the blast in the town of Ja-Ela, 12 miles (19 km) north of Colombo on the road to the island's only international airport, died on the operating table.
One of his security detail, among 10 others wounded, also later died, hospital and government officials said.
Local television broadcast footage of the minister's Toyota Land Cruiser, its windows shattered, sides peppered with shrapnel sprayed by the Claymore fragmentation mine and blood smeared on a rear passenger door and in a pool on the ground.
A doctor was pictured sitting astride the minister on a trolley, pumping his chest as he was rushed to the operating theatre.
The bombing is the latest in a series of attacks on government officials and the military in recent months. It comes just days after the government said it was formally scrapping a tattered ceasefire which had degenerated into renewed civil war in early 2006.
The Colombo stock market deepened losses following news of the blast, closing down 2.26 percent.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who want to carve out an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka, were not immediately available for comment, but routinely deny involvement in such attacks.
"The assassination of Minister D.M. Dassanayake deserves the most vehement and unequivocal condemnation by all those who respect democracy, desire peace and value human life," President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a statement.
"His assassination should be a further call for unity by all who stand for freedom and democracy to come together, shedding petty political or other differences, to decidedly defeat terrorism in our country," he added. "May he attain the bliss of Nirvana!"
PHONE BOOTH BLAST
A second explosion shook the capital on Tuesday evening, when a bomb planted in a phonebooth of an apartment block on a roundabout near the Hilton hotel in the city's business district detonated, but there were no reports of any casualties.
A military spokesman said the commander of the air force HAD driven past the area just minutes before the blast.
"Definitely it is the work of the Tamil Tigers," said Lakshman Hulugalle, director general of the Media Centre for National Security.
Fighting continued elsewhere on Tuesday. Fighter jets raided a suspected rebel command post in the northwestern district of Mannar, and the military said troops had killed 13 rebels in a series of clashes in the north and northeast.
The blast that killed the minister came minutes before Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake announced that parliament had again extended emergency rule first imposed in late 2005 after the assassination of the island's foreign minister.
Last week, a prominent minority-Tamil parliamentarian was shot dead in a Hindu temple in the capital.
The military says it has killed nearly 100 Tiger rebels since advising mediator Norway last week it was pulling out of the ceasefire pact. The move shocked the international community and was seen ruining any hope of resurrecting peace talks to end the 25-year conflict any time soon.
Just minutes before the blast, which took place midway between the capital and the airport, Deputy Tourism Minister Faizal Mustapha impressed on reporters that Sri Lanka was a safe tourist destination.
The government has vowed to wipe out the Tigers militarily, setting the stage for what many fear will be a bloody battle for the north as a death toll of around 70,000 people since the war erupted in 1983 climbs daily.
(Writing by Simon Gardner, Editing by Matthew Jones)
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