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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007, 13:14 GMT
Hindu priest killed in Sri Lanka
Selliah Parameswar (right) applies ash to the forehead of President Rajapakse on 3 February
Selliah Parameswar (right) died just days after meeting the president
A Hindu priest who blessed Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse at the weekend has been shot dead.

Selliah Parameswar was killed near his house in eastern Batticaloa district on Wednesday evening while his wife and children were having dinner inside.

The authorities have blamed Tamil Tiger rebels, who deny killing him.

Mr Parameswar, an ethnic Tamil, met the president when he visited the former rebel bastion of Vakarai on Saturday. Troops captured the town last month.

'Cruel'

Quoting family members, the military said the priest had been forcibly taken from his house in the village of Sandiveli and shot dead by three gunmen.

We unequivocally condemn with contempt the assassination of this clergyman
President Rajapakse

His bullet-riddled body was later found nearby in a ditch behind the government school, a statement said.

It suggested he had been targeted because he had co-operated with the security forces in order to help civilians fleeing the fighting around Vakarai.

Mr Parameswar, 61, was head priest at the Pillaiyar Hindu temple in the village.

President Rajapakse said "savage and cruel Tamil Tiger terrorists" had killed him.

"When I went to him as the head of state he invoked divine blessings on me, as he did to all others who came to him, as a clergyman of the Tamil Hindu temple," he said in a statement.

"As a nation and a government we unequivocally condemn with contempt the assassination of this clergyman."

Rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said the Tamil Tigers "do not engage in such activities".

"The area is under Sri Lankan military occupation," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Violence

In recent months the government has been stepping up military activity in the east, aiming to seize pockets of territory held by the Tigers.

Map

About 65,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka's civil war.

The Tigers are fighting for a separate homeland for the country's 3.1m minority Tamils, who say they have suffered decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

Most Tamils are Hindus, while the majority of the Sinhalese community are Buddhists.

Although both sides say they are adhering to a Norwegian-brokered 2002 cease-fire, violence has escalated since late 2005, with more than 3,600 people killed last year alone, the authorities say.




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