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Bomb kills several in Sri Lanka ahead of polls

Latest update : 2008-05-09

At least eleven people were killed when a bomb exploded in a crowded cafe in eastern Sri Lanka on the eve of historic local elections. Voters are going to the polls for the first time since troops rested control of the region from Tamil Tiger rebels.

Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels set off a powerful bomb killing 11 people and wounding 29 in Sri Lanka's east late Friday, a day ahead of a crucial local poll in the area, the military said.

The blast took place inside the crowded "New City Café" in Ampara town, 350 kilometers (220 miles) from Colombo, the defence ministry said, blaming the attack on separatist rebels.

Minutes before the blast, a convoy carrying a key government minister had passed the area, eyewitnesses said but police said the target of the attack was unclear.

The injured were rushed to the nearby Ampara hospital, police at the scene said, adding the nine men and two women were among the dead.

The attack came despite heavy security on Sri Lanka's east coast as residents of Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara prepared to cast their ballots on Saturday to elect officials to run the eastern provincial council.

The local polls, the first in the region for 20 years, come after government troops wrestled the island's east from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) last July.

The election is seen as a litmus test for President Mahinda Rajapakse's hawkish government as it escalates the war against the rebels to regain vast swathes of land under guerrilla control in the north.

"This is another cowardly attempt of the LTTE to disrupt normalcy in the area as the government (is) scheduled... to establish democracy in the eastern province," the ministry said after the bombing.

Tens of thousands have died since the Tigers launched a campaign for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the island's north and east.

Rajapakse is hoping the elections will deliver a show of public support despite concerns about the human and economic costs of the latest round of fighting.

Since then, Colombo says it has been trying to win the "hearts and minds" of the east's "liberated" Tamils -- a strategy it wants to take to the rebel-held north.

Although the eastern province is described as being under full government control, LTTE cells still operate.

The government pulled out of a tattered truce with the rebels in January, leading to a spike in a war that has left tens of thousands dead since 1972.

Colombo has poured a record 1.5 billion dollars into the war effort this year, hitting people's pockets at a time of high inflation and rising food prices.

Date created : 2008-05-09