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Blast rocks Sri Lankas capital, wounding 45
Sri Lanka Civil War 6247033
A Sri Lankan army officer stands guard, as police investigate at the site of an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008. A bomb blast blamed on separatist Tamil Tigers wounded 45 people in Sri Lanka's capital Saturday, while renewed fighting in the embattled north killed 18 rebels and three soldiers, the military said. - photo by Associated Press
    COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A bomb blast blamed on separatist Tamil Tigers wounded 45 people in Sri Lanka’s capital Saturday, while renewed fighting in the embattled north killed 19 rebels and six soldiers, the military said.
    Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara accused the Tamil rebels of setting off the blast on a busy street in the heart of Colombo.
    ‘‘They are desperate because of defeats along the northern front lines and are targeting civilians,’’ Nanayakkara said.
    The small bomb exploded in a commercial area shortly after noon, tearing through a crowd of weekend shoppers.
    ‘‘There was big sound, and people screamed and ran in all directions. I saw several people covered with blood lying on the ground,’’ said Shantha Ratnayake, who was passing the area when blast occurred.
    Hospital spokesman Dr. Anil Jasinghe said 45 people were receiving treatment for injuries received in the blast.
    ‘‘Most of them have suffered minor injuries,’’ he said, adding that no deaths were reported.
    Repeated attempts to reach rebel spokesmen by telephone and satellite phones Saturday were unsuccessful. However, the Tamil Tigers routinely deny responsibility for such attacks.
    If carried out by the rebels, the attack would show their ability to strike deep inside government territory despite a maze of security checkpoints around the capital and its suburbs.
    Saturday’s bombing was the first in the capital since May 16, when a suicide bomb attack blamed on rebels killed 12 people, including eight policemen, and wounded 85 others. On June 6, another bomb hit a crowded passenger bus just outside the capital, killing 21 people.
    The rebels, blamed for scores of suicide bombings and other attacks on civilians, are listed as a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and India.
    In other violence Saturday, a clash killed three soldiers and a rebel in Anuradhapura district, Nanayakkara said.
    Meanwhile, the rebels said in a statement that a shell fired by government forces Saturday hit a shelter for civilians displaced by fighting in Kilinochchi, killing five people and wounding three others.
    There was no immediate comment from the military.
    Both sides often give conflicting reports on violence. Independent verification of the claims is not possible because most journalists are barred from the war zone.
    On Friday, fighting along the front lines that separate government-held territory and the rebels’ de facto state in the north killed eight rebels in two separate clashes in the Kilinochchi district, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. Two soldiers also were killed, the ministry said.
    Other fighting in Vavuniya, Welioya and Jaffna killed 10 guerrillas and one soldier, while eight soldiers were wounded, the ministry said.
    Amid escalating violence, the government is urging civilians living in rebel-held areas to flee to government-controlled territory, saying it would ensure their safety. Government helicopters dropped leaflets Thursday in rebel-held areas urging villagers to leave.
    Fighting in Sri Lanka’s civil war has escalated in recent months, with the military capturing a series of rebel bases and large chunks of territory. Officials have reiterated a pledge to crush the guerrillas by the end of the year.
    The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought for an independent state in the north and east of the Indian ocean island since 1983, following decades of marginalization of ethnic Tamils by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority.
    More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

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