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Blast hits bus in north-east Sri Lanka

Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels bombed a bus in north-east Sri Lanka on Monday, killing at least 12 people, according to military officials. The blast occurred just hours after the armed forces marked the country's independence day in the capital.

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Thirteen people were killed in two roadside bombings in Sri Lanka on Monday, as the island's president marked independence day by insisting he was winning the war against Tamil Tiger rebels.

A bomb in the northeast of the ethnically-divided island killed 12 bus passengers and wounded 17 others, the military said, adding that a soldier was killed in a similar bomb attack against a military vehicle in the south.

The attacks, both blamed on the Tamil Tigers, came hours after an annual military parade at Colombo's seaside Galle Face promenade to mark Sri Lanka's 60th anniversary of independence from Britain.

In an address to the nation, President Mahinda Rajapakse said the "challenge bestowed upon us by history is the defeat of terrorism," and said government forces had cornered the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north.

"We faced this challenge squarely without avoiding it. Our security forces are today achieving victories against terrorism unprecedented in history," he said.

"Terrorism is receiving an unprecedented defeat," said Rajapakse, whose government last month pulled out of a tattered truce with the rebels, who are fighting for an independent ethnic homeland in the Sinhalese-majority island.

According to the defence ministry, the rebels have lost at least 908 fighters since the beginning of the year, compared to just 37 government soldiers killed.

At least 149 civilians have also died during the same period, according to both sides.

Monday's celebrations went ahead despite threats from the LTTE, and following two weekend bomb attacks that killed 34 civilians and wounded nearly 200 others.

Two more blasts just outside the capital earlier Monday did not cause any casualties, but an electricity transformer was destroyed in one of the attacks, police said.

Ringed by unprecedented security, Rajapakse also brushed off threats of foreign aid cuts due to the worsening ethnic conflict and human rights situation.

The president, however, appeared to brush off such warnings by asserting that Sri Lanka has "established new relations with our neighbouring states, Arab states and Buddhist states."

"Our neighbouring states trust us. Our problems and issues are also problems and issues of our neighbouring states," he said.

His remarks followed a thinly veiled warning from Japan, the island's main financial backer, that it may review its aid policy unless there is a decline in the level of violence.

The United States and Britain, Sri Lanka's former colonial ruler, last year announced aid cuts to the island citing human rights violations and high defence spending by the government.

Washington has also stopped selling military hardware to Colombo.

"We have been able to obtain and use aid that is beneficial to the development of the country," the president said at the military parade, which featured multi-barrel rocket launchers, and Israeli-built Kfir and Russian MiG-27 war planes.

To mark independence day, the island's prisons chief said around 2,280 inmates serving time for minor offences had received amnesties.

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