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Sunday, November 14, 1999 Published at 17:15 GMT

World: South Asia

Sri Lanka opposition demands extra security

The attack comes as civilians flee a rebel offensive further north

Sri Lanka's main opposition United National Party (UNP) has asked for extra security for its leader and presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe, after he narrowly escaped injury in a bomb attack.

The BBC's Jannat Jalil in Colombo: "President Kumaratunga has ordered an immediate investigation"
Addressing a news conference, UNP general secretary blamed the government for the attack at an election meeting attended by Mr Wickremesinghe in the town of Eppawela, 180km north of the capital, Colombo.

"I directly blame the government and its head, President Chandrika Kumaratunga,"Gamini Athukorale told reporters.

"She is the minister of defence and she should provide adequate security for the opposition leader," he said.

Mr Wickremesinghe escaped unhurt but two people died and more than 40 were injured.

Ranil Wickremesinghe speaks after the attack
Speaking about the incident, he said he had only escaped injury himself because he brought his speech forward and left the stage early.

He suggested to the BBC that he may have become a target because of a government campaign in the media saying he wanted to hand over parts of Sri Lanka to Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

Conflict in Sri Lanka
  • An unwinnable war?
  • Timeline of conflict
  • Leading the Tigers
  • The ethnic divide
  • Mr Wickremesinghe added that he advocated a process of de-escalation and a political solution to the Tamil conflict.

    The bomb went off shortly after Mr Wickremesinghe had finished addressing a crowd of several thousand people.

    It is the first election-related violence since it was announced last month that presidential elections would be held at the end of December - although two Tamil politicians have been killed in attacks in the past few months.

    There has been speculation that the rebel Tamil Tigers, who were blamed for the assassination of a presidential candidate five years ago, might try to carry out similar attacks in the run-up to next month's poll.

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