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Monday, 9 October, 2000, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Chandrika Kumaratunga: Politics in the blood
With fellow South Asian leaders at a regional summit in Sri Lanka
With regional leaders (third from left) at a summit in Sri Lanka
Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power as president of Sri Lanka in 1994.

Her family credentials for the job were impeccable.

Both her parents were prime ministers of Sri Lanka: her mother, Sirimavoh Bandaranaike, was the world's first woman prime minister.

At the time of her election she said that politics was in her blood, even though her father was assassinated when she was 14 years old, and her husband was gunned down in 1989.

Mrs Kumaratunga was educated at a convent school in Colombo.

She has often quarrelled with mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike
She often quarrelled with mother, the late Mrs Bandaranaike
She spent five years at the University of Paris, and is reported to have taken part in the famous 1968 student demonstrations in that city.

Today, she has abandoned most of her socialist beliefs, and is a firm supporter of Sri Lanka becoming a market economy.

Family politics

Mrs Kumaratunga's stronger academic background meant that she received none of the the taunts directed at her late mother, Sirimavoh Bandaranaike, who was accused by her detractors of being a "kitchen woman" - somebody who knew all about cooking, but nothing about running a country.
The Tamil Tigers have been an intractable problem
She is promising military success against the Tigers
Renowned by her supporters for her energy and intellect, it nevertheless took a long time for Mrs Kumaratunga to move out of the shadow of her mother, who was reluctant to countenance the idea of retirement.

The two women often quarelled with each other and with Mrs Kumaratunga's younger brother, Anura, who is now a member of the opposition United National Party.

During her 1994 election campaign and in power, Mrs Kumaratunga moved rapidly to accelerate the process of economic liberalisation in Sri Lanka.

Civil war

The victory of her Peoples' Alliance coalition ended 17 years of rule by the United National Party.

One of her most daunting problems was, and remains, the intractable civil war against the Tamil Tigers.

Uncle Anuruddha Ratwatte was made deputy defence minister
Uncle Anuruddha Ratwatte was made deputy defence minister
In one of her first news conferences on assuming power, she spoke of extending the hand of friendship to the Tamil Tigers.

Initially, it seemed that her overtures were making some headway, and there were numerous rounds of peace talks.

But any atmosphere of trust between the two sides disintegrated within six months of her presidential election win.

The Tamil Tigers resumed their hit and run tactics against the Sri Lankan army in the north and east of the country.

Changed tactics

Mrs Kumaratunga's tactic since then was to pursue a dual strategy in relation to the war: the defeat of the Tamil Tigers militarily coupled with a constitutional settlement that would give more autonomy to Tamil majority areas.

She has personally supervised this approach.

The recent loss of large amounts of territory in the north has been described as a significant setback for the government, which has lost around 10,000 men since she came to power.

The government is now trying to win back land from the Tigers, and in the run up to the general elections, appears to have abandoned its dual strategy.

The president recently said the war would be conducted on a "no holds barred" basis. Suicide bomber

Mrs Kumaratunga was herself almost killed in an attack by a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber on the final day of campaigning for presidential elections in 2000.

The bomber blew herself up just 5 metres from President Kumaratunga at the rally in Colombo, killing more than 20 people.

The president suffered injuries to her right eye, and capitalised on the occasion to address the nation twice - first on radio and then on television where she appeared with a white patch on her eye.

But she went on to be re-elected for a second successive term as Sri Lanka's president.


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