Sri Lanka president kicks off independence celebrations

Feb 4, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse kicked off independence celebrations at a sea-front promenade in the capital Monday under tight security following a string of Tamil Tiger attacks. The president hoisted the national flag to signal the start of official ceremonies marking the island’s independence from Britain 60 years ago.

Officials said the event was subject to unprecedented security measures, including the blocking of text messaging on mobile phones for the six-hour duration of ceremonies.

Thousands of police and security forces have ringed the capital, police said, adding that events were underway as scheduled despite a bomb attack on the outskirts of the capital which destroyed an electricity transformer.

On the eve of the celebrations, at least 14 people were killed in a suicide bombing at Colombo’s main railway station.

The attack was blamed on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are fighting for an independent ethnic homeland in the north and east of the Sinhalese-majority island. On Saturday, suspected Tamil Tiger rebels also blew up a crowded bus in northern Sri Lanka, killing at least 20 people.