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Srimavo Bandarnaike’s death overshadows elections

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October 11, 2000 


COLOMBO (AP) - Shelling by Tamil Tiger rebels, election-eve murders and the untimely death of the matriarch of national politics cast a pall over Parliament elections Tuesday.

After the polls closed, the two leading parties began leveling accusations at each other of vote-rigging, violence and slayings.

The independent Center for Monitoring Election Violence urged the Elections Commissioner to annul the votes in at least 210 of the country's 9,500 polling centers.

"The nature and extent of violations have been so widespread and serious as to render the final outcome in these areas utterly meaningless," said a statement by the center.

Many Sri Lankans had gone to the polls in the morning with peace on their minds. They had hoped that the legislative vote would lead to an end of the 17-year civil war.

By the end of the day, they were stunned to learn that Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who 40 years ago became the world's first female prime minister, had died of a heart attack soon after casting her ballot.

Bandaranaike, 84, was elected prime minister July 20, 1960, six years before Indira Gandhi became the first woman leader of India.

Bandaranaike regained the office for a third time in 1994, but retired in August to let her daughter, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, appoint a hard-liner ahead of the elections to help boost the battle against the Tamil separatists.

The rebels' quest for an independent homeland has claimed some 63,000 lives and displaced another 1 million Sri Lankans.

Bandaranaike was replaced by Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, who believes the rebels should be wiped out and that talks should only be held with moderate Tamils.

Voters at the school where Bandaranaike cast her ballot commented on her "good fortune," rather than the ironic timing of her death. Sri Lankans, the majority of whom are believers of astrology, thought the stars had been on her side.

Tuesday also marked the widow's 60th wedding anniversary.

"She was a very lucky woman," said 48-year-old T.K.H. Peiris, a People's Alliance polling agent. "She had been sick so long, but it is amazing that she was able to cast her vote before she died."

Wickramanayaka told reporters that Friday and Saturday would be national days of mourning and that Bandaranaike's funeral would be held at her ancestral home Saturday.

Several hours before news of Bandaranaike's death spread across this island nation off the southern tip of India, Tamil Tigers shelled an administrative center in Jaffna, the northern city which has been under siege for years.

Reports from Jaffna, the center of the ongoing Tamil war, said 15 to 20 shells fell around the main administrative building before voting started. There were no reported casualties.

The army discovered and deactivated a time bomb at the city's bus station shortly before polling started, according to military spokesman Brig. Sanath Karunaratne.

Reports from around the country indicated widespread problems at polling booths.

The main opposition United National Party accused Kumaratunga's People's Alliance of shooting and killing two party supporters at Anuradhapura and Matale, 160 kilometers (99 miles) and 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Colombo.

The death in Anuradhapura was confirmed by police, but the shooting in Matale could not be immediately verified.

The opening of the vote at 7 a.m. (0100 GMT) was preceded by two attacks that left three people dead, including a 6-year-old daughter of a ruling-party official, and nine wounded, police said.

Two members of Kumaratunga's Peoples' Alliance were dragged out of their vehicles near Kandy after midnight and beaten to death, police officer Sanath Happugale said by telephone. The area is 90 kilometers (56 miles) east of the capital, Colombo.

In the second incident, a grenade was thrown into the house of the People's Alliance vice chairman of a southern village council in Elpitiya. Dantha Hewayitharana escaped, but his daughter, 6-year-old Upekshika Saushalya, was killed.

The fatalities brought the total number of people killed in election violence to 65 since campaigning started five weeks ago.

More than 12 million voters were eligible to vote among 18.6 million citizens in Sri Lanka. A record 5,477 candidates from 29 parties were vying for 225 seats in Parliament.

Rauf Hakeem, leader of National Unity Alliance, accused the Deputy Defense Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte and another People's Alliance candidate of massive vote-rigging, intimidation and assault in the central Kandy district.

"This is a sad indictment of the government not upholding law and order," Hakeem said.

Kumaratunga, whose party held only a one-seat majority before she dissolved Parliament, failed in August to obtain the required two-thirds majority to pass her draft constitution.

She hopes that her seven-party coalition can win enough seats to guarantee a new document that would grant more autonomy to Sri Lankan regions, including the northern and eastern regions where most of the country's 3.2 million Tamils live. Kumaratunga is aiming to sidetrack the rebels and eventually end the war.

The rebels, who helped to put Kumaratunga in power in the 1984 presidential election, now want her party out. Kumaratunga, who survived an assassination attempt Dec. 18 but was blinded in one eye, has pursued a tough military campaign against the Tigers.


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