A bomb explosion destroyed the car of the government's leading rebel fighter as he traveled to his office Saturday, killing him and at least 29 other people, officials and witnesses said. Fifty others were wounded.
Deputy Defense Minister Ranjan Wijeratne was in charge of fighting the Tamil rebels and served as chief government spokesman. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion fell on the rebels.The explosion in a busy street in the city wrecked at least seven vehicles, including the minister's white Mercedes Benz and three escorting police jeeps, said the witnesses.
Wijeratne, 60, died in the attack, said Education Minister lalith Athulathmudali. He said many civilians also died, but did not know how many.
Military officials said 30 people were killed, including four police bodyguards escorting Wijeratne. Doctors at nearby hospitals said at least 50 people were brought for treatment of shrapnel injuries.
The car used by Wijeratne was a blackened wreck, the witnesses said. Telephone poles were lying across the road and pieces of shattered glass littered the area, they said.
Police and armed troops had cordoned off the area and armored cars were blocking all approaches, they said.
Wijeratne, a tall burly man with a reputation as a tough and often abrasive administrator, was in charge of the government's offensives against Tamil rebels fighting for an independent nation in the north and east of the island.
He was also the chief spokesman for the Cabinet and held the additional portfolio as the minister for plantations and industry.
President Ranasinghe Premadasa holds the defense portfolio in the Cabinet.
The Tamil rebels have been fighting since 1983 for independence. They broke a 13-month cease-fire last June.