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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 12:01 GMT
Sri Lanka election opens with blast
Demonstrators during a previous, violent election campaign
There are fears of more violence ahead of elections
A powerful explosion has rocked the Sri Lankan capital Colombo at the beginning of a parliamentary election campaign, killing at least three people and wounding 16.

The blast was set off by a suicide bomber who detonated explosives strapped to his body, witnesses said.


It looks very probable that the prime minister was the target

Assistant superintendent of police WJ Jogaatachy

Officials said the bomber may have been trying to get within range of the prime minister, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, whose motorcade passed by the site of the explosion about 30 minutes earlier.

Police said they noticed the bomber wearing an oversized shirt. When they asked him to stop he tried to get away.

When he realised he was surrounded he blew himself up, officials said.

As well as the bomber, one civilian and one policeman were killed. Five of the injured were policemen.

It was not clear who was behind the attack.

A police spokesman said it had the hallmark of Tamil Tiger rebels, who have been fighting an 18-year war for an independent homeland.

In July a Tamil Tiger raid on the capital's airport left 18 dead and 11 aircraft damaged.

Violence expected

There had been fears of increased violence in the run-up to December's election. About 70 people were killed during an election campaign last year.

It will be Sri Lanka's second election in 14 months. The president was forced to call it because of political instability and defections from the ruling party.

The 18-year-long civil war between government troops and Tamil rebels has killed more than 64,000 people and severely damaged Sri Lanka's economy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Amal Jayasinghe, AFP bureau chief in Colombo
"Eight people are in a critical condition"
Chandrika Kumuratunga, Sri Lankan President
"We have failed to achieve what we hoped to achieve"
See also:

10 Oct 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka president calls snap poll
11 Jul 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka president 'undemocratic'
04 Sep 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka Marxists to back president
06 Sep 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka pact defended
05 Sep 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka coalition gets reprieve
23 Aug 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka opposition demands talks
19 Jul 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Sri Lanka's political rivals
23 Feb 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka president faces impeachment
27 Apr 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka: An unwinnable war?
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