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Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
Row over Sri Lanka limos

By Alastair Lawson in Colombo

A political row has erupted in Sri Lanka over a government decision to buy bulletproof luxury vehicles for senior ministers.

The opposition United National Party has condemned the purchases as unnecessary and ostentatious, and has accused the president of watching too many James Bond movies.

It says that Chandrika Kumaratunga's decision to purchase so many armoured luxury cars shows that she is becoming more isolated and beleaguered.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe said that the government had bought around 20 BMW and Mercedes vans and Range Rover cars which have cost thousands of dollars.

He said there were reports that they had added six motorbikes equipped with missiles to its transport fleet.

Tamil Tiger threat

But the government has accused the opposition of exaggerating the number of vehicles purchased.

Security post in Colombo
Security is tight because of rebel threats
It says the threat of Tamil Tiger suicide bombers makes it imperative to give the maximum protection to senior ministers.

They argue that is especially the case in the run up to elections next month, which they say the rebels will do their utmost to disrupt.

Not all ministers however have been allocated the specially protected vehicles.

The Fisheries minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, has made a request to the president to receive one.

He says that his life is in danger if his plea is denied.

The government has accused the opposition of trying to make political capital out of what should be a straightforward issue of security.

Suicide bomb

President Kumaratunga has good reason to be worried about the threat to her and her ministers.

Chandrika Kumaratunga
The president narrowly escaped assassination
In December she narrowly escaped death when a suicide bomber attacked a presidential election rally that she was addressing.

Earlier this year Industry Minister, CV Goonaratne, was killed in another suicide attack in Colombo.

And only a few days ago the sports minister is believed to have escaped a similar attempt on his life.

Fears about security have meant that President Kumaratunga in particular has rarely been seen in public during this election campaign.

That's in contrast to the last general election in 1994, when she was frequently on the campaign trail.

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See also:

19 Jul 00 | South Asia
Luxury ride for Sri Lankan MPs
18 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka price protest
30 May 00 | South Asia
War costs for Sri Lanka
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