A Sri Lankan government minister, regarded as a potential prime minister, has been killed in a suicide bomb attack outside the capital, Colombo. At least 11 other people were killed and nearly 100 injured in the blast. VOA South Asia Correspondent Steve Herman reports Tamil Tigers are suspected of carrying out the attack, which took place as a traditional marathon race was beginning.
As Sri Lankan Highways Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was flagging off a marathon run outside the capital early Sunday morning, a blast tore through the crowd, killing him.
Also among the reported dead are the country's national athletic coach, a former Olympic marathon runner and other top athletes.
Sri Lankan Mass Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena says the security around Fernandadopulle was not as strict as it would normally be.
"He has good security but this time, early morning, he came to this place without full security," Abeywardena said.
The blast, in the town of Weliveriya, 25 kilometers north of Colombo, is the latest in a series of suicide attacks blamed on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Tigers have been waging an armed uprising for the past 25 years for an independent Tamil homeland.
Mass Media Minister Abeywardena says the assassinated government minister, a confidante of the President, always reached across ethnic lines to try to end the conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils, which has plagued Sri Lanka for decades.
"He was always trying to solve this problem with the help of the President and the other parties. He played a key role in the Parliament, very popular in the Parliament," Abeywardena said. "He was a leader of the Catholic but he always helped other religions - the Buddhists, the Hindus. He was very close to all communities.
Fernandopulle, who was regarded as a potential future prime minister, is the second government minister assassinated this year. His death comes as Sri Lankan troops in the north of the island are engaged in a fierce clash with the LTTE to recapture areas held by the Tigers.
In January, the government ended a six-year-old cease-fire accord with the Tigers, accusing them of using the truce to increase their strength and plan attacks.
The fighting in the past two years has claimed thousands of lives.