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13 killed in blasts on Sri Lanka I-day

21 others get injured in the two blasts as Sri Lanka observes the 60th anniversary of its independence under a tight security blanket and the shadow of political rivalries.

world Updated: Feb 04, 2008 20:01 IST

At least 13 people were killed and 21 injured in two bomb blasts as Sri Lanka observed the 60th anniversary of its independence under a tight security blanket and the shadow of political rivalries.

Hours after President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared in Colombo that the security forces were notching up "unprecedented victories" in the war against the Tamil Tigers, a powerful roadside bomb ripped apart a passenger bus at the Kobbekaduwa junction near Janakapura in the Weli Oya region of northeast Sri Lanka.

The defence ministry said that 10 civilians and two soldiers were killed and 18 people injured in the explosion.

A little earlier, a roadside bomb targeted at an army tractor went off at the 45th mile post between Buttala and Kataragama in the island's south, killing one soldier and injuring three others.

The defence ministry blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the world's most lethal insurgent group, for the killings.

Because of the tense situation in Colombo, the government closed all schools for a week. An Independence Day exhibition popularly known as "Diyata Kirula" was postponed to Thursday.

Thousands of troops drawn from the three services and also the police were deployed to keep a watchful eye on all pedestrians and vehicles in practically every nook and corner of Colombo.

Mobile phone operators, apparently under instructions from the security agencies, had barred the SMS facility because terrorists could use it to convey messages.

In his speech before a select audience of ministers, officials, political leaders, diplomats and select members of the public, president Rajapaksa claimed that the world supported his war against terrorism and separatism.

"Our neighbours trust us and the international community's confidence in us has not been reduced one iota," he thundered.

"The civilised world understands that we are fighting terrorism, the most ruthless terrorist group in the world (the LTTE)."

International aid had not been stopped as alleged by some, he said, and added that neighbouring India and also the developed world empathized with Sri Lanka because they themselves were facing the scourge of terrorism.

Rajapaksa hit out at critics who allege that Sri Lanka was run for the benefit of the Sinhalese, who constitute 70 percent of the country's 20 million people.

He also defended his decision to fully implement a power sharing system already in the country's constitution in a bid to end a dragging ethnic conflict that has claimed around 70,000 lives since 1983.

The president pointed out that last year Sri Lanka achieved a growth rate of seven percent, the best in 30 years. But he acknowledged that the rising prices of essential commodities had hit hard the common man.

One of the flaws in the otherwise grand function on the beachfront avenue called Galle Face promenade was an opposition boycott.

The main opposition United National Party (UNP), the Sinhalese Marxist Janatha Vmukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) were absent.

The UNP said that people were not enjoying freedom under the Rajapaksa government that took power in November 2005. The TNA said it was not invited and the JVP claimed that it got the invitation for the function too late.

Violence blamed on government troops and the LTTE in recent times has left thousands dead and many more displaced. The government has now vowed to kill the LTTE chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran.