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Sri Lankan's Widow Gets Party Nod : Asia: The wife of the slain opposition figure will run for president in his place, sources say.

October 26, 1994|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW DELHI — The wife of assassinated Sri Lankan presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake was appointed her party's new standard-bearer Tuesday, sources said, setting up a political battle of the widows with the country's prime minister.

In what was reportedly a protracted and argumentative meeting of the United National Party's Working Committee, Sirima Dissanayake emerged victorious over a former prime minister as well as another political widow, party sources said.

The nomination, which has yet to be made public, indicated that the UNP, which lost its 17-year grip on power in parliamentary elections in August, intends to capitalize on the sentiments of horror and sympathy sparked by Dissanayake's murder in a suicide bombing this week.

The slain man's wife, who is a lawyer and a member of one of Sri Lanka's provincial councils, will challenge Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga, whose father and husband both fell to political assassins, in the Nov. 9 presidential election.

One of Sri Lanka's most senior legislators, opposition leader Gamini Dissanayake was killed early Monday when the suicide bomber sprayed a campaign rally in the capital, Colombo, with deadly shrapnel a few minutes past midnight. According to the latest figures, 57 other people died, as well as the bomber.

The severed head of a woman was found about 100 feet away on a rooftop far from other bodies. Investigators say they suspect she was the killer, since she sustained the full impact of the explosion.

The attack was widely blamed on Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels, who have been fighting for 11 years for a separate homeland, but the rebels denied involvement. Police on Tuesday picked up 75 Tamils from lodging houses in central Colombo near the blast site, and arrested 25 of them, a senior officer said.

Chief investigator Lionel Gunatilleke said the suspects had arrived recently in Colombo from the rebel stronghold of Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka.

Initially, police said a man on crutches who died in the bombing might have been responsible. But a senior investigator said Tuesday that the man had been identified, and "he was not behind the blast."

Reprisals for the blood bath against members of the Tamil minority had been feared, and additional police were deployed in Colombo and its suburbs to prevent violence. But the capital appeared so calm that a curfew imposed after the bomb attack was allowed to lapse at 4 a.m. Tuesday. The government said it would renew the curfew Tuesday night as a precaution.

A state of emergency was still in force, and beefed-up military patrols were stopping and checking cars. But schools, offices and markets opened during the morning and functioned normally.

In the wealthy district of Colombo where Dissanayake lived, Buddhist monks in their saffron robes, police officers in uniform and thousands of other mourners formed a line a mile long to pay their last respects to the 52-year-old politician. His remains will be taken to Parliament today, and he will be given a state funeral Saturday.

Following Dissanayake's murder, Kumaratunga's government broke off negotiations with the Tamil rebels, and said they will not resume until the bombing has been thoroughly investigated.

It was her fledgling government that resumed talks this month with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam separatists after four years without any such contacts.

Gamini Dissanayake was selected at a marathon meeting of the UNP Working Committee, which reportedly struck a compromise that would capitalize on her name recognition but limit her influence in the party.

She was selected over ex-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and Hema Premadasa, widow of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was blown up by a suicide bomber on a bicycle in May, 1993.

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