More attacks feared

 

Fearing the attacks were only the first in a new wave, officials decided to close all the schools in the Western Province, which includes the capital, for the rest of the week, and security officers warned residents to be on high alert.

 

Jayantha Wickremarathna, a police spokesman, said "the general public should be extra vigilant about their surroundings especially in trains, buses, crowded areas and even in schools".

 

The explosion at the four-storey No Limits department store in Nugegoda was set off after a security guard there became suspicious of a package left with him for safekeeping and called over a police officer.

 

When they tried to open it, the package exploded, Nanayakkara said.

 

The blast hit as commuters crowded a nearby bus stop during rush hour, and shattered the department store's windows and sent piles of crumbled concrete pouring on to the bloodstained sidewalk.

 

Police and firefighters dug through the rubble to search for bodies.

 

Assassination attempt

 

The military also blamed the Tigers for Wednesday morning's attempt on the life of Douglas Devananda, the minister of social services.

 

A suicide bomber targeted Devananda, a vocal
opponent of the LTTE, the military said [AFP]
Devananda, also the leader of the Eelam People's Democratic party, an ethnic Tamil party considered a rival to the Tigers, has been the target of repeated assassination attempts.

 

Having once fought alongside the separatists before turning to politics in the 1980s, Devananda is a vocal opponent of the LTTE.

 

He was unharmed but the blast killed one of his staff members and injured two others, military officials said. The bomber was also killed.

 

The LTTE, listed as a terror organisation by the US and EU, has carried out more than 240 suicide bombings and many other attacks in its more than 20-year war with the government.

 

The separatists have previously killed civilians in attacks on economic targets, such as the central bank, and on religious shrines, but had stopped targeting civilians in the past two years.

 

They did not claim responsibility for the department store blast and a spokesman said he was unaware of the attempt on the minister's life.

 

The attacks came a day after 22 civilians - including 11 school children – were killed in separate attacks inside Tiger-controlled territory, the separatists said.

 

The Tamil Tigers blamed the military, which denied responsibility for the roadside bombing that killed the children.

 

Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, condemned Wednesday's attacks and expressed concern about an aerial attack on Tuesday which damaged the office of the UN World Food Programme in Kilinochchi.

 

"The secretary-general appeals for an end to the destructive spiral of violence in Sri Lanka and calls on the parties to the conflict to return to the peace process while making every effort to ensure the protection of civilians," his press office said.

 

Waste of time

 

The attacks came a day after Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE chief, declared Sri Lankan peace efforts a waste of time and vowed to strike back at the island's "genocidal" government.

  

The attacks came a day after the LTTE chief 
declared peace efforts a waste of time [AFP]
"Those who plan to destroy the Tamil nation will in the end be forced to face their own destruction," he said.

  

A reclusive leader, Prabhakaran launched a furious assault on the island's Sinhalese majority, accusing "the Sinhala nation of trying to destroy the Tamil nation".

  

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 to create a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's minority ethnic Tamils, citing discrimination by governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority.

 

The fighting has killed an estimated 70,000 people.