19th December 1999
Our photojournalist M. A. Pushpakumara was perilously close to the bomb blast site. Though falling after being hit, he recovered to take this picture of the victims being carried away. With blood all over his shirt, cameraman Pushpakumara took other pictures, one of which is in the news section.
President survives assassination bid
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga last night survived an assassination attempt by a suspected LTTE suicide bomber and was undergoing surgery for the removal of shrapnel from below her right eye shortly after midnight.
The attack took place around 9.30 last night as she was leaving the People's Alliance final rally at the Colombo Town Hall premises when a female suicide bomber among the crowd got atop a railing and exploded herself.
The Town Hall attack came soon after a grenade attack in Ja-ela which claimed the lives of eight persons, including former Army Chief of Staff Lucky Algama, who was leaving after addressing an election rally (See separate story)
President Kumaratunga had stopped to talk to a BBC correspondent before getting into her car when the explosion occurred.
Eleven persons including the Colombo police chief Senior Deputy Inspector General T.N. de Silva were killed in the explosion.
Three ministers including Justice Minister G. L. Peiris, Trade Minister Kingsley Wickramaratne and Provincial Councils Minister Alavi Moulana who were close by also received injuries and were rushed to the National Hospital in Colombo. Professor Peiris was seen on the ground with blood on his right hand.
President Kumaratunga was rushed to the Nawaloka Hospital, close to the bomb site. Eye witnesses said she was carried from her car to a trolley and wheeled into the Medical Intensive Care Unit.
Security officers sealed off the hospital and told all visitors to leave. According to hospital sources the President had made a telephone call to her daughter in London before being taken for a CT-scan prior to surgery.
There were unconfirmed reports at the time of going to press that the President's condition had taken a bad turn and that her right eye was seriously damaged.
A team of seven doctors including an eye specialist were attending on her. Dr. J. B. Peiris and Dr. Maiya Gunasekera were among the doctors treating the president. Around 1.15 a.m. Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs Minister Lakshman Jayakody came on state TV calling on religious organisations to hold Bodhi Poojas and other religious rites today for the President's speedy recovery, raising speculation that the President's condition may be somewhat serious.
An hour earlier Presidential Secretary K. Balapatabendi came on TV saying the president was appealing for calm and that she was only slightly hurt.
Minister Peiris and former Transport Minister Srimani Athulathmudali were near the steps of the stage seeing the President off when the explosion occurred.
Prof. Peiris fell down holding his chest and told Ms. Athulathmudali "I'm dying, I'm dying".
Ms. Athulathmudali and some of Prof. Peiris' security officers had then carried the minister to the back of the stage near Alexandra Road and broken the railing down to put him in a vehicle and rush him to hospital where he underwent surgery on his arm.
Eye-witnesses saw Presidential Security officers calling for a security blanket when President Kumaratunga fell after the explosion. She was then rushed to hospital.
From yesterday morning, one of the tightest-ever security cordons had been thrown around the Town Hall area with traffic being diverted and all persons being body-searched. But the suicide bomber got close to the president despite all the security.
In the aftermath of the attack on President Kumaratunga last night, the government moved swiftly to declare curfew in Colombo and Gampaha districts.
As the President underwent surgery at midnight, there was no indication when the curfew would be lifted or who was in charge of administration with the Prime Minister also incapacitated.
UNP presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe last night condemned the attacks on the PA and UNP rallies at the Colombo Town Hall and Ja-ela.
He condoled with the families of the dead and wished President Kumaratunga and all those injured a speedy recovery.
"We are also concerned about the attack on the UNP meeting in Ja-ela. The attack on the PA meeting has taken place in a high security zone. I call upon the government to maintain law and order and also call upon all citizens to help the government to do it."
An hour before the suicide bomb attack at Town Hall, a suspected grenade attack killed former Army Chief-of-Staff Lakshman (Lucky) Algama and seven others at Ja-ela.
Major Gen. Algama had just finished speaking at a UNP propaganda rally at Ja-ela and was getting into his vehicle when the explosion occurred. Gen. Algama's bodyguard also died in the explosion.
UNP's new Ja-ela organiser Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena was presiding at the meeting at the town near the bus depot.
UNP Chairman Karu Jayasuriya and frontliner Anura Bandaranaike had just spoken and left for the party's main rally at Colombo Central. Gen. Algama had spoken thereafter.
UNP's main final rally was called off early once their Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe had arrived after the two bomb attacks and spoken for ten minutes.
Gen. Lucky Algama was considered one of the UNP's main defence spokesmen outside Parliament. He had intentions of contesting a parliamentary seat at the next elections on the UNP ticket.
Gen. Algama was much in the news during the past few weeks after the military debacle in the Wanni with government leaders accusing him of a conspiracy. He was later questioned by the CID.
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