A powerful suicide blast ripped through a political gathering in the north-central district town of Anuradhapura on Monday morning, killing at least 27 people including two senior opposition leaders and journalists. At least 80 have been injured, the military said.
The military added that a suspected LTTE cadre strapped with explosives had mingled with the crowd which had gathered for the opening of a new office of the main opposition party, United National Party (UNP), in Anuradhapura, about 200 km from the Capital.
``The blast occurred at about 8-45 in the morning at the meeting venue near the Old Bus Stand in Anuradhapura. It seems that the LTTE suicide cadre triggered the explosion in the middle of the crowd,’’ military spokesperson, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.
The injured were taken to the Anuradhapura district hospital. The condition of several was said to be critical.
Among those killed in the attack were Janaka Perera, leader of the Opposition in the north-central provincial council, and his wife. Perera, a retired army general had fought the LTTE during his military but had also been critical of the government’s policies. He was also UNP’s chief ministerial candidate in provincial council elections in August.
Another senior UNP politician Dr Johnpulle was also killed in the blast. He had recently filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court after his house was burnt before the August election.
Nanayakkara said that a television journalist from Sirasa televison was killed in the explosion.
The explosion triggered waves of unease across Anuradhapura, a sleepy town, which s also the site of several Buddhist ruins and once the country’s ancient capital. It is also heavily guarded. The LTTE had launched simultaneous air and ground attacks on an army base in Anuradhapura in 2007.
NAnayakkara said the LTTE would have launched Monday’s attack as Perera had led several campaigns against them during his tenure as general.
The attack also comes at a time when the military is claiming to be is less 2 km and days away from overrunning Kilinochchi, the LTTE’s political and administrative capital located in northern Lanka.