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Thousands mourn Sri Lanka editor

13 January 09 11:07 GMT

Thousands of mourners attended the funeral of a leading Sri Lankan newspaper editor and fierce government critic who was shot dead last week.

Security was tight in Colombo as crowds paid their last respects to Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunga.

Reports say some 10,000 people attended a Christian service before a burial ceremony at Colombo's main cemetery.

Journalists in Sri Lanka have suffered a string of attacks as the war with Tamil Tiger rebels has intensified.

Media freedom groups say intimidation and violence make it one of the most difficult countries in the world in which to report.

An obituary for Mr Wickramatunga, apparently written by himself in premonition of his killing, appeared in his paper on Sunday under the title And Then They Came For Me.

Death threats

Mourners packed the Assembly of God church in Colombo on Monday afternoon for the service for Lasantha Wickramatunga. His burial was to take place later at Colombo General Cemetery, the city's main burial ground.

Mr Wickramatunga was shot last Thursday by unidentified gunmen as he drove to work. He died from head wounds after nearly three hours of surgery, doctors said.

Police have yet to make any arrests.

Correspondents say Mr Wickramatunga had numerous run-ins with the government. His killing was one of two major attacks on the media in Sri Lanka last week.

On Tuesday, gunmen armed with grenades ransacked offices of the MBC group, the largest private TV broadcaster in the country.

Mr Wickramatunga worked for the channel as a presenter on a weekly current affairs programme.

MBC had been criticised by the government for its coverage of the war against the Tamil Tigers.

Mr Wickramatunga, 52, and his newspaper had been highly critical of government policy and the war with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

He received numerous death threats throughout his career and was detained on several occasions because of the controversial nature of his stories. He also fought a number of libel cases.


In his self-penned obituary, Mr Wickramatunga says: "When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me."

He adds: "Murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges."

Amnesty International said in November that at least 10 media employees had been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006.

Some reporters say the intimidation has got worse as the war has intensified with the Tamil Tigers.

The Sri Lankan government has been accused of encouraging violence against the media by branding reporters seen as critical as rebel-sympathisers and enemies of the state.

The government has condemned the incidents and ordered full police investigations.

President Rajapaksa said he was "grieved and shocked" by Mr Wickramatunga's killing.

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