Sri Lanka’s largest Tamil party and the country’s main opposition blamed the military for the assassination of one its parliamentarians last week, saying the killing was intended to terrorise and silence criticism of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s rightwing administration.
Nadaraja Raviraj, a member of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and a human rights lawyer, was shot at close range by unidentified gunman on a motorbike at around 8.30am last Friday as he got into his car after giving a TV interview.
The MP died later in hospital. His bodyguard was also killed.
President Mahinda Rajapakse immediately condemned the shooting, calling it a "cowardly and heinous act" by "those opposed to dissent and political pluralism in a democratic society".
However, the TNA was quick to blame the government for the brazen killing by gunmen who coolly departed the scene in the capitol, Colombo.
The gunmen got away after stopping traffic in front of a military installation, without fear of being arrested.
"It is government forces or forces aligned to the government, there can be no question," TNA leader R Sampanthan told Reuters.
"This is an attempt to stifle... and silence those who can justifiably espouse the Tamil cause."
"We understand that a whole magazine has been emptied on them in broad daylight. This is a clear message to Tamil parliamentarians ... don't open your mouth," Suresh Premachandran, another MP for the TNA, told reporters.
"A democratic voice of Tamils has been silenced," Selvam Adaikalanathan, another fellow party member, told Tamilnet.
"He had a convincing way of dealing with even the crude bureaucracy of this failed state. He fought from their platform. His voice in the Sri Lankan parliament, and in south, where injustice and oppression originate, was much feared."
The Tamil Tigers conferred their highest civilian honour Saturday on Mr. Raviraj.
The LTTE leader, Velupillai Pirapaharan bestowed the title of "Mamanithar," or great man, on Raviraj, who on the day before petitioned the United Nations to intervene and protect civilians against violence by the armed forces.
The United States led international criticism of the government, but stopped short of condemning the killing.
“The United States deplores the assassination on November 10 of Mr Nadarajah Raviraj, member of the Sri Lankan Parliament,” a US embassy statement said.
“We express our deepest sympathy for this loss to the family of Mr.Raviraj, to his parliamentary colleagues and the people of Sri Lanka who have been unjustly robbed of his energy and talent.”
“It is critical that crimes such as the murder of Nadarajah Raviraj not go unpunished. We urge the government to begin an immediate investigation into the circumstances of his killing and to find, arrest and prosecute those responsible on the most urgent basis,” the US said.
The Federation of All Mosques and Organizations in Eastern Province (FAMOEP), in a statement Saturday, expressed its deep sorrow over the killing of Mr. Raviraj.
"Muslims of North East revere Raviraj as a Tamil leader who had given an important place in his heart for the well-being of Muslims," it said.
“He worked tirelessly for the liberation of Tamil speaking people in the North East and also vehemently advocated the unity of Tamils and Muslims. He openly expressed regret for the suffering the Muslim people had undergone in the North East during war period.”
The main opposition United National Party (UNP) said the government must accept responsibility for the killing - the second of a TNA legislator in a year - and ensure the killers were brought to justice.
“Within a year of parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham’s assassination, Raviraj has been killed. This is a threat to democracy. We strongly condemn this cowardly act and urge the government to take legal actions to bring the killers to justice besides providing adequate security measures to Tamil parliamentarians,” UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said.
UNP national organiser S.B. Dissanayake blamed the government for the killing, saying it could not get away by blaming paramilitaries or any other organisation.
Mr. Raviraj, who spoke Tamil, Sinhala and English, had often been called on to articulate the Tamil perspective in Sinhala electronic media.
"He clearly explained to the Sinhala people in Sinhala why the Tamils are oppressed because they are Tamils," Gnanasiri Kotthigoda, editor of the Haraya newspaper said.
Mr Raviraj, 44, elected twice as mayor of Jaffna in the Tamil heartland, was an outspoken parliamentarian, voicing objections to extra-judicial killings and civilian abductions, and a leading campaigner for Tamil self-rule.
On Thursday, the father-of-two had taken part in a demonstration against the Sri Lankan Army's shelling near a school in the north-eastern town of Vaharai which killed at least 50 Tamil civilians. The military onslaught in the region has displaced over 40,000 Tamil people.
Thousands of people of all ethnicities protested Monday against Mr. Raviraj’s killing at a demonstration organised by anti-war peace groups.
The MP’s casket was carried on shoulders of protestors.
A call for hartal (general shut down) protest brought in Tamil parts of the country to a standstill.
The TNA said a request for Mr. Raviraj’s cortege to travel to the northern peninsula of Jaffna by road was turned down by the government.
Defence officials confirmed the request was rejected, but said they offered air transport to Jaffna.
TNA leader Sampanthan said the party was making other arrangements to charter a private plane and hold the funeral at his home constituency of Chavakachcheri in Jaffna.
A spokeswoman for the international truce monitors in Sri Lanka, Helen Olafsdottir, told the BBC that there seemed to be total impunity regarding assassinations in Sri Lanka, which she said occurred everyday.
"We are fast becoming a country of widows," said Nimalka Fernando, a leading human rights activist at Monday’s protest said. "These killers and the mighty terror of the state are making us a killing field."
"We cannot allow this country to be ruled in this manner," she said. "It is the culture of impunity that must stop."