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8 killed in Sri Lankan blast at temple

January 25, 1998
Web posted at: 5:37 a.m. EDT (0537 GMT)
Damage caused by the truck bomb
Damage to the temple caused by the truck bomb   

KANDY, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Suicide bombers crashed through a gate and set off a truck bomb in front of Sri Lanka's holiest temple Sunday, killing at least eight people and injuring dozens of others, military and police officials said.

Among the dead were the two bombers, authorities said. Hospital officials said about 25 people, including four women police constables and a monk, were injured by the blast.

The attack comes just days before Sri Lanka is to celebrate 50 years of independence from British rule. A number of dignitaries, including Prince Charles of Britain, are expected to attend.

"The feeling is one of outrage. We see it as an attempt to disrupt the celebrations and provoke a backlash. We have to be careful how we tackle the situation," said Harindhanath Dhunuwila, Kandy's mayor.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the early morning blast in the ancient capital of Kandy, about 70 miles (112 km) west of Colombo.

However, a spokesman from the Ministry of Defense blamed the attack on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the main group seeking a homeland for the country's Tamil ethnic minority. Suicide truck bombs are a hallmark of Tamil rebels.

"A suicide squad of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ... crashed through the gate and exploded in front of the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth," the statement said.

The force of the blast left a crater in front of the temple   

Hours after the blast, thousands of angry Sinhalese gathered outside the temple shouting anti-Tamil slogans. The mob then paraded around a lake in the city center and gathered outside another temple where one of the country's four main Buddhist priests lives. Priests apparently managed to calm the mob, and a large security force presence made more violence unlikely.

The LTTE is the largest rebel group in a 15-year civil war that has left an estimated 50,000 dead. The separatists claim that the Tamils have been abused by the country's Sinhalese majority.

Kandy, located in central Sri Lanka, is scheduled to host ceremonies next week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sri Lankan independence. A government spokesman said Sunday there were no plans to cancel the celebrations.

The United National Party, the country's main opposition party, blamed the government, saying that the celebrations invite trouble.

"The government was baiting the LTTE. ... It was a foolish act," said UNP leader Ranil Wickeremasing.

The Temple of the Tooth is a symbol of Sri Lanka's independence, and houses a tooth that Buddhists believe is a relic of Buddha's, brought from India when Buddhism lost ground to Hinduism there.

Officials said that despite the damage to the building's roof and facade, the tooth, housed in a chamber at the building's center, was unharmed.

Alhough the Tamils are mostly Hindu and the Sinhalese mostly Buddhist, religion has rarely been an important factor in the civil war.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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