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Sri Lankan Journalists Protest Newspaper Editor's Murder

In Sri Lanka, journalists and others have held a silent march to protest the killing of a newspaper editor who had exposed official corruption and was highly critical of the government's war against Tamil Tiger rebels. The murder has underlined the threat to media freedom in the country.

After attending funeral services for Sunday Leader newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, hundreds of journalists and other people joined a protest march, Monday.

Wickramatunga was shot at close range, killed by unidentified gunmen as he drove to work, last week.

The government has strongly condemned the murder. But several media groups and opposition politicians have blamed the government for the death of a man reputed to be one of the country's most fearless journalists.

The Paris-based Reporter Without Borders has said the government is directly to blame for the editor's death, because it incited hatred against him.

Wickramatunga's newspaper had published several stories which alleged corruption in defense procurement. And, it has been severely critical of the government's military campaign to crush Tamil Tiger guerrillas fighting for an independent Tamil homeland.

In Colombo, the head of the South Asian Free Media Association, Sunanda Deshapriya, called the editor's murder a big blow to independent media in the country.

"We don't have many investigative journalists in Sri Lanka who have the guts to dig deep into these kind of stories," Deshapriya said. "And, Lasantha was one of them. Killing Lasantha sends signals to not hundreds, thousands of other journalists who wanted to do critical stories, not to think, even, of doing investigative stories into large-scale corruption and ongoing war situation."

The government has ordered an investigation. But journalists are skeptical, saying that virtually no one appears to have been brought to justice for previous attacks against the media.

Amnesty International says at least 10 media employees have been killed, in the last two years, and many more have been abducted or detained. Human rights groups call Sri Lanka one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to operate.

Just two days before Wickramatunga's killing, more than a dozen gunmen raided and torched the studios of the country's biggest private broadcaster.

Sri Lanka has been torn for nearly three decades by a civil conflict that has seen Tamil guerrillas locked in a violent struggle with government forces. Both sides have been accused of widespread human rights violations, in the conduct of the war.