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19th December 1999

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He saw it all

"The President had just finished her speech. She bid goodbye to the crowd, and got off the stage as her car reversed to pick her up. I was standing between the stage and the crowd, in the cordoned off space in between. As the fireworks went off, almost simultaneously there was another sound of an explosion.

"I was thrown against the railing of the stage. There was an eerie silence. The President was whisked away in her car; and the silence was interrupted by sounds of gunshots coming from the vicinity of the mosque."

The Sunday Times photojournalist M. A. Pushpakumara covering the PA rally at the Town Hall gave this first person account to us, immediately after the bomb blast that targeted the President.

Mr. Pushpakumara, who was a few metres away from the President had wanted to get as close as he could, to obtain a close up of her. He escaped the blast, and the blood spattered on his shirt is probably that of other victims. He saw around 15 people sprawled on the floor, and the military and police trying to pick out those alive to be rushed immediately to hospital.

A foreign journalist among them seemed to be badly injured.


SP attacks our cameraman

The Sunday Times photographer Ranjith Perera who was covering the UNP rally in Ja-ela was assaulted by a police officer while he was on official duty.

After the bomb blast which took place during the UNP rally, Mr. Perera who was on the scene was prevented from taking photographs and his camera was smashed by the police officer. This officer also made derogatory references to our photographer and accused him of being present "to do a certain politician's job.'' (Thamuse ave Ranilta pandang allanada?) The remark was both insensitive and irrelevant. Our photographer identified the officer who assaulted him as SP Abeynayake.


Indian leaders express concern

Indian President K. R. Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said last night they were relieved to hear that President Kumaratunga was safe after the bomb blast and wished her speedy recovery.

The messages were conveyed last night in a handwritten note by High Commissioner Shiv Shanker Menon to Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.


Fresh LTTE attacks thwarted

Security forces have thwarted fresh attempts by the LTTE to breach defences in the Elephant Pass sector home for the Army's 54 Division.

Fierce battles raged yesterday both in the eastern and western sectors of Elephants Pass.

While troops repulsed attacks in the eastern sector, in the west LTTE cadres breached the defence lines. However troops were able to repulse the attack and re-establish the defences.

A Defence Ministry statement claimed that 110 rebels had been killed. Eighteen soldiers were also killed. (See Situation Report for full details)


100,000 extra votes for Gampaha

Government Printer 'surprised' at development

In an unprecedented development on the eve of Tuesday's Presidential elections, the Polls Chief has directed the Government Printer to release another 100,000 fresh ballot papers on the basis that a part of the papers sent to the Gampaha division have been spoilt.

Government Printer Neville Nanayakkara confirmed that he had received written instructions from Acting Elections Commissioner D. M. P. B. Dassanayake to release fresh ballot papers, but he had not received the alleged the 'spoilt ballot papers' until last afternoon, despite having given written assurance the ballot papers would be returned to the Government Press.

"I cannot believe that nearly 100,000 ballot papers in the Gampaha district alone have been spoilt. I sent one of my officers along with two CID officers to inspect these ballot papers, but the Gampaha Divisional Secretariat officials have refused to show the spoilt ballot papers," Mr. Nanayakkara said.

Gampaha's Assistant Elections Commissioner W. P. Sumanasiri confirmed that an officer of the Government Printers Department along with the CID called over to inspect the ballot papers, but were not shown these 'spoilt' ballot papers.

"We did not show the ballot papers since they are considered secret documents. We will take steps to return these ballot papers to the Commissioner of Elections," Mr. Sumanasiri said.

Mr. Nanayakkara said there were two stages where spoilt ballot papers could be detected during the printing process and before dispatch and it was unlikely that such a large number of spoilt ballot papers had gone undetected.

Mr. Nanayakkara told The Sunday Times he was surprised that the allegedly spoilt ballot papers had not been shown to him. He said since the Commissioner of Elections had given a written guarantee that the spoilt ballot papers would be returned, he would be taking steps to issue fresh ballot papers with new serial numbers.

The allegedly spoilt ballot papers were not shown to the Government Printer. The Government Printer has informed the GA Gampaha that ballot papers are issued after his officials had quality tested the said papers and that he was precluded from issuing fresh ballot papers without the return of the allegedly spoilt ballot papers.

UNP presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe expressing concern about the development told The Sunday Times his party feared the alleged 'spoilt ballot papers' could be misused.


Public-spirited appeals end Government doctors' strike

By Faraza Farook

After a five-day strike which left hospitals crippled and thousands of poor patients stranded, government doctors announced yesterday they were suspending their strike immediately and that work in hospitals would be normal.

In a statement, the Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) said the doctors were suspending their strike in response to urgent appeals from religious prelates, the Army Chief of Staff and several trade unions and five ministers.

The strike was launched last Monday over a demand for health services to be transferred from provincial administration to central government control.

President Kumaratunga who earlier wanted a month and then a week to effect this change, issued a gazette notification last Wednesday, bringing health services under central government control.

The GMOA however said there were loopholes in the notification and escalated the strike.

But as the situation in hospitals became desperate amidst tension over Tuesday's presidential election, the GMOA made a dramatic change and decided to call off the strike.

In an interview on state television on Friday night, President Kumaratunga accused some GMOA leaders of being political tools for the UNP in the run-up to the presidential polls.

But the GMOA in its statement yesterday denied this charge and warned it would resume trade union action after the elections, if the issue over the control of health services was not settled in terms of a recommendation made by a Cabinet-appointed committee of experts.

Among those who appealed to the GMOA to call off the strike were the Mahanayake theras of the Asigiriya and Amarapura Chapters, the Archbishop of Colombo, the Anglican Bishop of Colombo and the National Christian Council, Army Chief of Staff Lionel Balagalle, Sarvodaya leader A. T. Ariyaratne and several big trade unions.


Poll curfew: decision Tuesday

By Shelani de Silva and R. A. Jayasinghe

As some 40,000 police personnel began moving out today for special election duty, the head of the Police Election Secretariat said the IGP would study the situation on polling day and advise the Defence Ministry regarding the imposition of a curfew.

Senior Superintendent M. B. Raban who heads the Election Secretariat said all police stations were being advised to be ready to issue curfew passes, this was only a precautionary measure and a final decision would be taken on Tuesday.

SSP Raban said the election incidents reported upto now were largely not serious, except for a few.

Thus there was no basis for rumours that a post-polls curfew was imminent.

Meanwhile, Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku told The Sunday Times he was ordering police of all ranks to act impartially and deal firmly with anyone and all who violated election laws irrespective of what party they belonged to.

He called on the people to trust the police and assured that this trust would not be betrayed on the election day.

The Sunday Times learns that the police will seek the assistance of the armed forces if and when necessary and that they are under orders to open fire if there are serious attempts to unleash violence.


Diplomats join poll monitors

Foreign diplomats are to join the independent election monitors to observe Tuesday's polls.

On Friday diplomats from at least six foreign missions in Colombo toured several areas with officials of the People's Action Front for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL).PAFFREL Director Kingsley Rodrigo said the diplomats for the first time joined them in an assessment tour of the Central Province. He said the diplomats expressed interest in visiting the polling booths on Tuesday and PAFFREL would provide them with guides. To avoid any diplomatic problem, the diplomats are stressing that their observation tours are being made in a private capacity. The discretion is thought to be intended to avoid a repetition of a diplomatic problem similar to the David Gladstone episode during President Premadasa's regime, after which the British High Commissioner was declared persona non-grata.

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