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The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"It is not clear who was to be the target for the bombing"
 real 56k

Thursday, 19 October, 2000, 18:41 GMT 19:41 UK
Sri Lanka alert after bombing
Blast site
Police inspect the site of the blast
The new Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, has asked his ministers to stay alert after a suicide bomb attack rocked the capital, Colombo.

Mr Wickremanayake blamed Tamil Tiger rebels for the attack and said they were likely to step up their campaign following their failure to inflict heavy casualties in the blast.

Three people were killed and 23 injured when a bomber set off a powerful explosion, just a mile away from President Chandrika Kumaratunga's residence.

Thursday's blast took place minutes before the new cabinet was to be sworn in.

"They have failed this time," Mr Wickremanayake told his colleagues after the swearing-in. "Please pay extra attention to your own safety while attending public functions."

'Acting suspiciously'

Police said that plainclothes officers had spotted the bomber "acting suspiciously" near a Buddhist temple, on a road that some cabinet members were using to reach the ceremony.

Latest suicide attacks
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"He tried to stab an MSD (Ministers' Security Division) officer while he was being questioned and then ran towards the town hall," a police spokesman told the French news agency AFP. "At that point he detonated the explosives."

Though the blast occurred quite close to President Kumaratunga's residence, she decided to go ahead with the swearing-in.

Her People's Alliance formed a new government after winning the most seats in parliamentary elections on 10 October.

Mrs Kumaratunga kept the key finance and defence portfolios for herself while retaining Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

Members of two minority Tamil and Muslim parties - including the widow of a Muslim leader who died in a helicopter crash last month - were also inducted in the 44-member cabinet.

Helicopter downed

Meanwhile, the rebels have stepped up their offensive in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

They took control of three army bunkers in the Nagarkovil area and even shot down an army helicopter sent to help the soldiers.

The Russian-built MI-24 helicopter burst into flames after being hit by a surface-to-air missile.

An army spokesman said the three crew members of the helicopter had been rescued safely.

Chandrika Kumaratunga
Mrs Kumaratunga was wounded last December
Tamil rebels, who are fighting for an independent homeland in Sri Lanka's north, are accused of frequent bomb attacks in the capital, including one last December that wounded Mrs Kumaratunga in her right eye.

Two weeks ago, the Tamil Tigers were blamed for a suicide bombing at a People's Alliance election meeting which killed 10 people.

That attack followed another two days earlier in the north-east which killed 23 people.

On 15 September, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Colombo hospital, killing seven.

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See also:

19 Oct 00 | South Asia
BBC reporter killed in Sri Lanka
13 Oct 00 | South Asia
New government for Sri Lanka
11 Oct 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Time for co-operation?
10 Oct 00 | South Asia
Violence mars Sri Lanka poll
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