IN the wake of a bomb attack that claimed the lives of several senior opposition leaders, the Sri Lankan government yesterday suspended peace talks with Tamil rebels and suspended elections that were just three weeks away.
Emerging from an emergency Cabinet meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga also said she was putting the armed forces on high alert.
With the talks on hold, progress toward ending the country's 11-year civil war has been thrown into uncertainty.
``Violence has struck once again as the nation moves toward peace and normalcy,'' Mrs. Kumaratunga said.
The United National Party is expected to nominate soon a new candidate to replace Gamini Dissanayake, who was killed when a bomb exploded at an election rally near Colombo. The attack, which killed more than 50 people, is believed to have been carried out by the Tamil Tigers, the guerrilla group that has been waging a civil war for a separate Tamil homeland since 1983.
The UNP had held power for 17 years, until losing parliamentary elections in August to the People's Alliance party. Yesterday's bomb blast also killed the UNP general secretary, as well as two former Cabinet ministers and a member of parliament.
Kumaratunga was to compete against Dissanayake for the post of president, which under the Sri Lankan system wields considerable power. Since her People's Alliance party was elected in August, Karamutunga has pledged to end the country's civil war by holding peace talks with the Tamil Tigers. She also released 18 rebels who were being held in government jails and eased an economic embargo against the Northern Jaffna Peninsula, a rebel stronghold.
Mr. Dissanayake, however, was a vocal critic of the government's decision to hold unconditional peace talks with the rebels, insisting that the guerillas first lay down their arms.