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15 Die in Sri Lanka Bomb Explosion

March 10, 2000

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ A bomb exploded in the commercial center of the Sri Lankan capital during evening rush hour today, killing 15 people and injuring at least 46, authorities said.

Police believe a suicide bomber set off the explosion prematurely and had intended to target a motorcade of government ministers and political leaders that had been expected to pass by later.

Gunfire could be heard from the cordoned-off Borella area, the commercial hub of Colombo, up to an hour after the explosion. At least 50 soldiers took up positions to try to capture the perpetrators. Helicopters circled the area.

Five of the 15 dead were police, and 46 people were hospitalized, said police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

K. Nissanka, a fire department official, said the blast damaged 25 to 30 vehicles.

Badly disfigured remains found near the site led authorities to theorize that a suicide bomber was responsible. Police also found two rocket-propelled grenade launchers in the area.

Police officials said the bomber parked a car along a route usually taken by ministers when they leave Parliament. The bomber may have starting getting out of the car in order to position himself in front of the expected motorcade when the blast went off.

There were no further details and no claims of responsibility.

However, a military spokesman blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who have been fighting for 17 years for a separate homeland for minority Tamils.

``It has got to be the terrorists. Or who else will be carrying out such a dreadful attack,″ said Brig. Palitha Fernando, a military spokesman. ``We are investigating how this happened.″

The Tigers have been blamed for several car bomb explosions and suicide bombings in Colombo and other cities over the years.

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