Colombo: Unidentified gunmen opened fire at an election campaign rally in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Friday, killing a woman and wounding at least 12 people, police said.
The attackers sprayed bullets into the crowd just after Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake left the venue, marking the first major violence ahead of the August 17 Parliamentary Elections.
"The gunmen travelled in two vehicles and escaped in the same vehicles after the shooting spree," police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told AFP.
"A woman was killed and 12 wounded persons have been admitted to the Colombo National hospital."
Hospital sources said two of the victims were in a "very critical" condition.
Investigators cordoned off the Bloemendhal area where the shooting took place and launched a search for the two getaway vehicles, Gunasekera said.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe`s deputy Harsha de Silva expressed shock and vowed not to allow a return to violence.
"I`m in shock and in disbelief at the shooting incident at (finance minister) Ravi`s event," de Silva said on Twitter.
"No one will be allowed to reverse what we achieved on 8th January," he said, referring to new President Maithripala Sirisena`s election.
The 52-year-old finance minister is from the ruling United National Party (UNP), which backed Maithripala Sirisena in January`s presidential election.
Soon after assuming office, Sirisena invited the UNP to form a minority government after sacking the administration of former president Mahinde Rajapakse.
Election monitors also expressed surprise at the shooting in Colombo, where security is tight and campaigning had been mostly peaceful.
Some 70 international election observers are monitoring the poll campaign ahead of the August vote.
"We are puzzled by this latest turn of events in Colombo because so far it has been relatively calm and even the level of violence in other areas has been very low," said Keerthi Tennakoon, head of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE).
The CaFFE said there had been about 55 clashes since Sirisena sacked parliament on June 26 and called general elections nearly a year ahead of schedule.
Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya has said he will strictly enforce poll laws and has pledged to ensure a free and fair vote in August.
Next month`s election will be the first since a recent constitutional amendment gave the commissioner greater powers to run the process independently.
Almost all previous elections have been marred by allegations that government workers colluded with the party in power to give them an undue advantage in the polls.
Ahead of January`s presidential poll, which ousted Rajapakse after a decade in power, Deshapriya had ordered police to "shoot in the head" anyone trying to disrupt the vote.
In the end the January 8 election was relatively peaceful although one drive-by shooting killed a supporter of Sirisena.ave more powers to Deshapriya to run the process independently.
Police said they had launched an operation to track down the gunmen behind the attack.