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Wednesday, 5 January, 2000, 16:29 GMT
Tamil politician shot dead

Mr Ponnambalam was shot dead after an earlier bomb attack Mr Ponnambalam was shot dead after an earlier bomb attack

By Amal Jayasinghe in Colombo

A prominent Tamil politician, Kumar Ponnambalam, has been assassinated in Sri Lanka by an unknown gunman.

His death came shortly after a suicide bomb attack outside the prime minister's office in the capital Colombo.

Conflict in Sri Lanka
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  • A lone gunman fired two shots at close range at Kumar Ponnambalam, who was driving his car in a Tamil majority area of Colombo.

    The 60-year old politician was killed in the same area where, two months ago, a Tamil newspaper editor was also shot dead.

    So far no group has claimed responsibility for either attack.

    Mr Ponnambalam, who was a lawyer by profession, openly supported the Tamil Tiger rebels.

    The Tigers are suspected of being behind the suicide bomb attack on the prime minister's office.

    It is not clear if Mr Ponnabalam's assassination was in any way connected to the suicide bombing or if it was carried out by any particular group.

    Prominent leader

    Mr Ponnambalam's father was one of the first Tamil ministers in Sri Lanka after the country won independence from Britain in 1948.

    Kumar Ponnambalam joined his father's Tamil Congress Party as a young politician, and eventually rose to its senior leadership.

    However in recent years the party has had little or no electoral support.

    But Mr Ponnambalam remained controversial by locking horns with the ruling party and other moderate Tamil leaders.

    His attempts to find a Tamil candidate to challenge President Chandrika Kumaratunga in last month's presidential elections failed.

    He was also unsuccessful in winning a parliamentary seat in the 1994 general elections, despite his attempts to woo Tamil voters in Colombo with a nationalistic manifesto.

    Mr Ponnambalam was one of the wealthiest people in the city, with a collection of Mercedes Benz cars.

    He once remarked he would only join the armed struggle for a separate Tamil state if he could learn to fire a gun.

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