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Sri Lankan PM survives suicide bombing

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- A bomb attack that ripped through the capital of Sri Lanka and killed at least three people may have been aimed at Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, officials said.

"We suspect the target could have been the prime minister," a police official said on state television, the Associated Press agency reported.

The attack happened about 30 minutes after Wickremanayake had passed through the site of the attack, said military spokesman Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne.

The blast occurred at around 3 o'clock (0900 GMT) in Narahenpita, a suburb not far from the center of Colombo, while police were chasing the suspected suicide bomber, supposedly a member Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

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Karunaratne said three people -- two police constables and the suicide bomber -- were killed in the blast, while five policemen and 10 civilians were wounded.

Officials suspect the Tamil Tigers were behind the attacks, which happened at the start of the parliamentary election campaign.

A witness said that the number of fatalities could escalate, but that it was difficult to tell because of the different body parts left by the explosion, the Associated Press news agency added.

Marred by violence

The attack marked the start of an election campaign that was expected to be marred by violence.

Sri Lanka has a history of violent elections with attacks by Tamil Tigers, violence among the various parties, and ballot snatching.

Last year alone, some 70 people were killed in election-related violence.

The Tamil Tigers, fighting for a separate state in the north and east, are known to have used previous elections to target politicians as they move around to campaign for votes.

Suicide bombers have targeted high-level officials in past campaigns, including President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was wounded in a December 1999 attack that killed at least 34 people.

In 1994, presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake and 51 others were killed in a bomb blast during an election rally.

Sir Lanka's war against separatist Tamil rebels has dragged on for 18 years and killed more than 64,000 people.


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