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Sri Lankan President Wounded in Suicide Bomber Attack

December 19, 1999|DEXTER FILKINS and WARUNA KARUNATILAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A large majority of voters elected Kumaratunga in 1994 on her promise to bring peace to Sri Lanka. She began talks with the Tigers and entered into a cease-fire, but in 1995 the Tigers broke off the talks and called off the cease-fire. Shortly after, the Sri Lankan army captured Jaffna, the Tamil cultural capital. Since then, Kumaratunga has been unable to push through the National Assembly a package of constitutional reforms designed to give the minority Tamils more rights. And the war has become a stalemate.

In recent weeks, the LTTE has appeared to tilt in favor of Wickremesinghe, who has promised to negotiate with the Tigers. The Tigers have urged Tamils not to vote for Kumaratunga and have even allowed United National Party politicians to campaign for Wickremesinghe inside LTTE territory.

After so many years of war, many Sri Lankans have grown accustomed to death and violence. But Saturday night, as word of the assassination attempt spread through the capital, many reacted with revulsion.

"My God, what is wrong with the country?" asked Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader, an English-language newspaper in Colombo.

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Times staff writer Filkins reported from Koh Samui, Thailand, and special correspondent Karunatilake from Colombo.

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