1 dead, 12 wounded in shoot­ing at Sri Lanka elec­tion rally


Masked gun­men opened fire at an elec­tion rally head­lined by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ravi Karunanayake in Sri Lanka’s cap­i­tal Fri­day, killing a woman and wound­ing 12 other rul­ing party ac­tivists, po­lice said.

The at­tack­ers sprayed bul­lets into the crowd of 500 to 600 peo­ple drum­ming up sup­port for the rul­ing United Na­tional Party (UNP), mark­ing the first ma­jor vi­o­lence ahead of the Aug. 17 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

While there was no im­me­di­ate claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tack in Colombo, Karunanayake blamed sup­port­ers of for­mer strong­man pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japakse who is look­ing to stage a come­back at the polls.

“The gun­men trav­eled in two ve­hi­cles and es­caped in the same ve­hi­cles af­ter the shoot­ing spree,” po­lice spokesman Ruwan Gu­nasek­era told AFP.

“A woman was killed and 12 wounded per­sons have been ad­mit­ted to the Colombo Na­tional hos­pi­tal.”

Hos­pi­tal sources said two of the vic­tims were in a “very crit­i­cal” con­di­tion.

The min­is­ter said he was “sec­onds away” from the shoot­ing although ini­tial po­lice re­ports said he had just left the area when gun­men got off two ve­hi­cles and opened fire in­dis­crim­i­nately.

“I was sec­onds away — or about 20 feet (6 me­ters) from the in­ci­dent,” Karunanayake told re­porters in Colombo.

“This is noth­ing but an act of po­lit­i­cal ter­ror­ism spon­sored by the op­po­si­tion led by Ra­japakse.”

Dur­ing his decade in power, Ra­japakse was ac­cused of pre­sid­ing over an ad­min­is­tra­tion rid­dled with cor­rup­tion and wide­spread rights abuses.

Karunanayake said the shoot­ing had bro­ken out while his sup­port­ers were light­ing fire­crack­ers, ex- acer­bat­ing the sense of panic and con­fu­sion.

Bul­lets amid Crack­ers

“While the crack­ers were go­ing off the four masked men got off a black­col­ored car and opened fire,” the min­is­ter said. “Peo­ple re­al­ized what had hap­pened when sev­eral peo­ple started fall­ing and were bleed­ing.”

The 52-year-old fi­nance min­is­ter is one of the most se­nior mem­bers of the UNP, which backed Sirisena in Jan­uary’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Sirisena had been a sup­porter of Ra­japakse’s United Peo­ple’s Free­dom Al­liance (UPFA) and is the nom­i­nal leader the for­mer pres­i­dent’s party even though the two men are now es­tranged.

Karunanayake had ini­ti­ated sev­eral probes into al­leged frauds by mem­bers of the Ra­japakse regime.

Po­lice said in­ves­ti­ga­tors cor­doned off the Bloe­mend­hal area where the shoot­ing took place and launched a search for the two get­away ve­hi­cles.

Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe’s deputy Har­sha de Silva ex­pressed shock and vowed not to al­low a re­turn to vi­o­lence.

“I’m in shock and in dis­be­lief at the shoot­ing in­ci­dent at Ravi’s event,” de Silva said on Twit­ter.

“No one will be al­lowed to re­verse what we achieved on 8th Jan­uary,” he said, re­fer­ring to Sirisena’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion tri­umph.

Soon af­ter as­sum­ing of­fice, Sirisena in­vited the UNP to form a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment af­ter sack­ing Ra­japakse’s cab­i­net.

Sri Lanka has a long history of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence at elec­tion time.

Pres­i­dent Ranas­inghe Pre­madasa was killed in a sui­cide bomb at­tack dur­ing an elec­tion rally in 1993 while Chan­drika Ku­maratunga, another pres­i­dent, lost her right eye in 1999 dur­ing her re-elec­tion bid.

This year’s cam­paign had been largely peace­ful and lo­cal elec­tion mon­i­tors ex­pressed sur­prise at Fri­day’s shoot­ing.

“We are puz­zled by this

latest turn of events in Colombo be­cause so far it has been rel­a­tively calm and even the level of vi­o­lence in other ar­eas has been very low,” said Keerthi Ten­nakoon, head of the Cam­paign for Free and Fair Elec­tions (CaFFE).

CaFFE said there had been about 55 clashes since Sirisena dis­solved par­lia­ment on June 26 and called elec­tions a year ahead of sched­ule but this was the first armed in­ci­dent.

There was no im­me­di­ate re­sponse from a group of around 70 in­ter­na­tional observers.

Al­most all pre­vi­ous elec­tions have been marred by al­le­ga­tions that gov­ern­ment work­ers col­luded with the rul­ing party to give them an un­due ad­van­tage.

Ahead of Jan­uary’s pres­i­den­tial poll, elec­tion chief Mahinda De­shapriya had or­dered po­lice to shoot any­one try­ing to dis­rupt the vote.

While the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion passed off rel­a­tively peace­fully, a Sirisena sup­porter was killed in a drive-by shoot­ing.

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