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Sunday, January 25, 1998 Published at 13:48 GMT

image: [ BBC Correspondent Suzy Price ]Suzy Price
Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, has visited the holiest Buddhist site in the country, the Temple of the Tooth, which was hit by a bomb blast this morning. Eleven people, including three bombers, were killed when a truck exploded outside the temple in Sri Lanka's second city, Kandy. Suzie Price reports.

The president's flying visit to Kandy was designed to back her government's stand that the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary will continue in spite of the bomb.

Afterwards the President was quoted as saying she had ordered the immediate restoration of the temple.

Army recruits spent the day clearing the glass, rubble and wooden beams which littered the floor of the temple. However, the basic structure of the magnificent white building, which overlooks the lake, seems to be sound. Few artefacts have been damaged and the sacred inner shrine, which contains a tooth said to have belonged to Buddha, was unscathed, apart from a side door.

The temple is the holiest site in Sri Lanka for Buddhists and there was both anger and sadness in the town of Kandy. Many monks came to look at the damage.

One elderly man said they had suffered much during the civil war but had never expected the temple to be targeted.

The government has blamed the Tamil Tiger guerrillas, who are fighting for a separate homeland for Tamils in the north and east, for the bomb.

There had been fears of communal violence following the attack; a large group of young men caused a fire at a Tamil Hindu cultural centre, but there were few other reports of violence. The government has admitted there were lapses in security, despite the thousands of troops and police drafted into Kandy to prevent such an attack in the lead up to celebrations marking the 50th anniversary.

They are due to be attended by Prince Charles and many foreign ministers. The government will now have to persuade the foreign and local dignitaries who have been invited that they really can guarantee their safety.

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