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Sri Lanka suicide blast kills 14, wounds minister

 Sri Lankan doctors carry Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Mahinda Wijesekara for surgery after being air lifted to a hospital in Colombo, Sri...
 Sri Lankan hospital staff carry an injured man at a hospital in Matara, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, March 10, 2009. A suspected rebel suicide bomber attacked...
 Sri Lankan doctors carry Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Mahinda Wijesekara for treatment following a suicide attack at a hospital in Matara...
 This image made from video shows an explosion in background, as Sri Lankan Muslim men perform during a religious procession in Akuressa, in Matara, a...

Sri Lanka Civil War

Sri Lankan doctors carry Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Mahinda Wijesekara for surgery after being air lifted to a hospital in Colombo, Sri...

Sri Lanka Civil War

Sri Lankan hospital staff carry an injured man at a hospital in Matara, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, March 10, 2009. A suspected rebel suicide bomber attacked...

Sri Lanka Civil War

Sri Lankan doctors carry Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Mahinda Wijesekara for treatment following a suicide attack at a hospital in Matara...

APTOPIX Sri Lanka Civil War

This image made from video shows an explosion in background, as Sri Lankan Muslim men perform during a religious procession in Akuressa, in Matara, a...

A rebel suicide bomber attacked a procession of Muslims celebrating a religious holiday Tuesday in southern Sri Lanka, killing 14 people and critically wounding a government minister, officials said.
Officials blamed the Tamil Tigers for the blast, saying the rebels had grown desperate in the face of a relentless government offensive that has brought them to the brink of defeat after more than a quarter century of civil war.
The bomber appeared to have targeted six ministers as they led a procession toward a mosque in the town of Akuressa to celebrate Mawlid, which commemorates the prophet Mohammed's birthday.
Television footage showed men in white robes and caps slowly parading down the street before the blast sent them running in all directions. Charred, twisted bodies filled the street, their clothes nearly incinerated by the explosion just outside the mosque compound's gates.
"I heard a huge sound, and then I saw people had fallen everywhere. They were covered with blood and flesh, and the wounded people were screaming," Ahamed Nafri, 29, said by telephone from the hospital in the nearby town of Matara.
Police and bystanders were seen lifting the badly bleeding Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Mahinda Wijesekara into a van.
Aruna Jayasekera, a doctor at Matara hospital, said Wijesekera was in critical condition and had been airlifted to the capital for surgery to remove "blood and foreign objects" from his brain.
Another 41 people wounded in the blast were being treated in Matara, he said.
The blast came as government forces stood poised to rout the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam from their last stronghold in northeastern Sri Lanka after a 20-month offensive.
The government has vowed to crush the rebel group, but Tuesday's suicide attack near the southern tip of the island _ if the work of the Tamil Tigers _ shows the guerrillas can still launch strikes far from their traditional strongholds in the north and east.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's office said the attack killed 14 people and exposed the Tamil Tigers as "not only a ruthless terrorist outfit but also one which has no regard or respect for religion."
Listed as a terror group by the United States, EU and India, the Tamil Tigers have repeatedly targeted senior government officials for assassination and have been blamed for hundreds of suicide attacks.
With most communication to the northern war zone severed, rebel spokesman were not immediately available for comment.
The rebels have fought since 1983 for an independent state for the Tamil minority, which suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed.
Fighting has escalated in recent months, as the military routed the rebels from most of their de facto state in the north and cornered them in a narrow strip of land along the northeastern coast along with tens of thousands of trapped civilians.
More than 200 rebels and an unspecified number of soldiers have been killed in intense fighting in the north since Thursday, the army said. The pro-rebel TamilNet Web site, quoting rebel radio, said at least 100 government soldiers were killed in fighting Sunday.
TamilNet said army shelling has killed more than 300 civilians in recent days, and Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah, the top government health official in the war zone, said heavy shelling continued Tuesday. The army denies shelling the area.


Updated : 2021-07-24 23:27 GMT+08:00