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Tiger bomb kills Jeyaraj

14 others including National Athletics Coach, ace marathon runner killed:

Weliweriya: Highways and Road Development Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and 13 others were killed in a LTTE suicide bomb blast in Weliweriya, Gampaha around 7.45 a.m yesterday, which also left over 90 people injured.

The powerful blast occurred when the Minister was about to flag off a marathon organised as part of the Sinhala-Tamil New Year celebrations at the Kanthi playground in Weliweriya.

Eyewitnesses told the Daily News that the blast occurred as soon as the Minister, the Chief Guest, raised the flag to start the marathon in the presence of over 500 people. Police are investigating as to how the suicide bomber got so close to the Minister. They suspect that the suicide bomber who targeted the Minister could have come in the guise of a marathon runner participating in the event or posed as a keen observer of the proceedings.

Police are trying to trace the owner of a camera found at the site to check whether it has any link to the blast.

A severed head believed to be that of the bomber was found 12 feet from the scene of the blast.

According to the Director of the Gampaha base hospital Dhammika Mayadunne, over 50 injured persons have been admitted with eight in a critical condition. Among them was Gampaha Police division SSP Hector Dharmasiri.

Four others have been transferred to the Colombo National Hospital.

Sri Lanka's National Athletic Coach Lakshman De Alwis and ace marathon runner K.A.Karunaratne, who represented Sri Lanka at Barcelona Olympics in 1992, were among the dead along with two other participants in the race.

According to sources the race which was originally scheduled for 6.30 a.m had got delayed as the organisers were not ready. The Minister who had arrived by the time had left the ground and returned to flag off the race by 7.30 a.m.

Eyewitnesses said that the Minister had engaged in friendly conversation with the participants before proceeding to the starting point, where the renowned former marathon runner Karunaratne had handed over the flag to the Minister.

The blast had occurred as the Minister first raised and then lowered the flag to signal the start with bodies strewn all over the place in the immediate aftermath.

The Defence Ministry yesterday said that the Minister was assassinated in yet another cowardly LTTE attack in the face of growing pressure in the Northern front where it has been cornered while facing numerous defeats in the recent past.

A faithful Catholic, the Minister was a vociferous critic who expressed his concerns on numerous occasions over the LTTE's occupation of the world renowned sacred "Madhu" church and the removal of the "Madhu" statue recently. Fernandopulle was the Chief Government Whip in addition to being a Cabinet Minister.

He was also the SLFP chief organiser for the Katana electorate and with the impending elections in the East was given the additional responsibility of organising the polls campaign for the UPFA in the Trincomalee district.

An Attorney-at-Law, Fernandopulle began his political career in 1970 as a SLFP polling agent, and 14 years later was appointed as the chief organiser of the SLFP for Katana electorate.

He has held several key ministerial portfolios.

He is survived by wife Sudarshani and two children.

Meanwhile, the investigations into the assassination of Minister Fernandopulle and others had been taken over by the Criminal Investigations Department said, Police spokesman Senior DIG N.K. Illangakoon.

CID DIG Sisira Mendis had deployed a special team headed by a senior CID officer to conduct the investigation.

***

Funeral with State honours on Thursday

A funeral with full State honours will be accorded to Highways and Road Development Minister, Chief Government Whip and the Treasurer of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Jeyaraj Fernandopulle on Thursday.

The Government made this decision following a meeting held yesterday under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

A committee has been appointed under the patronage of Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka to organise the funeral arrangements. Accordingly the remains of Minister Fernandopulle were brought to his official residence in Colombo last evening and the remains will lie in state in Parliament today from 10.30 am to 12.30 p.m.

Thereafter, the remains will be taken to his residence at Katana.

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