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Sri Lankan editor who challenged politicians killed

[Reuters, Thursday, 8 January 2009 17:49 No Comment]

A gunman shot and killed on Thursday the outspoken editor of a newspaper that often clashed with politicians, in the second assault on the media on the Indian Ocean island in three days.

An attacker shot Sunday Leader chief editor Lasantha Wickramatunga in a car stuck in rush hour traffic. He later died on the operating table as doctors tried to save him.


"The gunman smashed the window of the vehicle and shot at him," his brother Lal Wickramatunga told Reuters.


The Sunday Leader has been locked in court battles with many politicians over corruption, including the president’s brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He sued for defamation over stories criticising the war and alleging procurement graft.


Press rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) criticised President Mahinda Rajapaksa and state media after the killing, saying they had "incited hatred against him and allowed an outrageous level of impunity to develop as regards violence against the press".


Rajapaksa in a statement on Thursday vehemently condemned the killing and ordered an investigation into a man he called a close friend and courageous journalist.


"This heinous crime points to the grave dangers faced by … our country, and the existence of forces that will go to the furthest extremes in using terror and criminality to damage our social fabric and bring disrepute to the country," he said.


The Leader printing press was destroyed in 2007 in an arson attack. Wickramatunga blamed it on government-backed gunmen.


On Tuesday, more than a dozen gunmen destroyed the main studios of Sri Lanka’s largest independent and private broadcaster, which had often clashed with authorities over its coverage of the war and suicide bombings.


Journalists face murder, harassment, abduction and arbitrary detention in Sri Lanka, which press freedom groups count among the world’s most dangerous countries for reporters.

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