Sri Lanka opposition faces bullets ahead of key vote

Updated 04 January 2015
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Sri Lanka opposition faces bullets ahead of key vote

COLOMBO: Gunmen opened fire at an opposition rally in Sri Lanka, marking an escalation of violence ahead of next week’s crucial presidential elections, party officials and police said.
Unidentified attackers fired from a jeep as the main opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena was leaving the meeting in his home constituency of Polonnaruwa district, his office said.
A party official said Sirisena was unhurt but a bystander was injured, while a vehicle was also damaged. Police sources said an investigation was underway, but no arrests had been made.
The latest attack, by far the worst targeting the opposition in the run-up to the January 8 election, came a day after a stone-throwing attack injured supporters of Sirisena elsewhere in the island.
Campaign-related violence has escalated across Sri Lanka as President Mahinda Rajapakse fights an unexpectedly tough battle to remain in power, poll monitors said.
The private Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) monitoring group said it had received 1,073 complaints since campaigning got underway in early December.
Police said they had received a much smaller number of complaints, but that 130 arrests had been made.
A deputy minister and 13 other elected representatives are among those who have been arrested in connection with 245 complaints of violence, police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.
CaFFE said the increasing violence was well organized and target the opposition, which is mounting a serious challenge against two-term incumbent Rajapakse.
“We are seeing a trend of increasing violence,” CaFFE director Keerthi Tennakoon said. “The violence is well organized. It is almost always directed against the opposition’s campaign.”
Rajapaksa’s main rival Sirisena had a narrow escape when stones and rocks were thrown at a political rally outside Colombo Friday night, but some 20 of his supporters were injured, the party said.
Police spokesman Rohana said two men had been arrested in connection with Friday’s stone throwing and they were looking for four more suspects.
Sirisena blamed pro-government elements for unleashing the attack on his rally.
Sri Lanka’s External Affairs ministry on Friday warned the European Union not to interfere in elections after Colombo-based ambassadors urged the government to ensure peaceful polls — a sentiment echoed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon in a separate statement earlier this week.
Previous elections have been marred by violence, particularly against Tamil and Muslim voters, the opposition’s major support base.
Sirisena left his health portfolio and quit Rajapakse’s administration in November to become the main opposition candidate.
Local media reports say that the two men are currently neck and neck, although Rajapakse was considered the clear front-runner when he called the vote two years ahead of schedule.
The ruling party’s vote sank 21 points at a local election in September, suggesting that the president’s own popularity may be waning five years after he was credited with ending a separatist war that had claimed 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009.


Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

Updated 23 April 2019
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Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

  • The Gomez family gather for funeral of a husband and wife and their three sons
  • They were brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine

COLOMBO: The dark wooden coffins, sitting side by side, attested to one family’s unspeakable grief.
The Gomez family gathered Tuesday to say a final farewell to five loved ones — a son, a daughter-in-law and three young grandsons — brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine.
“All family, all generation, is lost,” said Joseph Gomez, the family patriarch, as tears welled in his eyes. Dozens of family members and neighbors were gathered in his simple home, where the sound of hymns sung by mourners gently wafted in the background and candles flickered beside three coffins. The bodies of two grandsons have yet to be recovered.
Across Sri Lanka, Tuesday was a national day of mourning as families began to lay to rest the more than 320 victims of the bomb blasts that struck a half-dozen churches and hotels in the island nation.
For the Gomez family, the loss was unfathomable: A 33-year-old son, Berlington Joseph, the young man’s 31-year-old wife Chandrika Arumugam, and their three boys, 9-year-old Bevon, 6-year-old Clavon and baby Avon, who would have turned 1 next week. A funeral card with a photo of the family clutched in his hands, the elder Gomez wailed: “I can’t bear this on me, I can’t bear this.”
“My eldest son, my eldest son,” he sobbed as he laid bouquets of red roses and brightly colored daisies on the largest coffin. Next to it was a tiny coffin, a photo of little Avon tucked into a wooden frame nearby.
The coffins, draped with long white tassels, were then carried to a Colombo cemetery and lowered into side-by-side graves.
At St. Joseph’s Shrine, dozens of mourners gathered outside, lighting candles and praying in unison for the victims of Sunday’s blasts as heavily armed soldiers stood guard.
At St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, a funeral service was held Tuesday for victims killed there as they worshipped, led by Cardinal Malcom Ranjith. The church was heavily guarded by hundreds of army, air force and police troops, and soldiers were deployed every 15 feet along the streets of the city some 20 miles north of Colombo.
Throughout the country, people observed a three-minute silence for the victims of the near-simultaneous attacks at three churches and three luxury hotels, and three other related blasts, the deadliest violence to strike Sri Lanka in a decade.
The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attack on National Towheed Jamaar, a little-known local extremist group, and on Tuesday, the Daesh group also claimed responsibility, though it provided no proof it was involved and has made unsubstantiated claims in the past.