Gunmen opened fire during an election rally in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo on Friday, killing one person and injuring 15 others, three of whom are now in critical condition.
Gunmen travelling in two vehicles sprayed bullets into the crowd at the rally of the governing United National Party (UNP), which was attended by Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake.
"They seemed to target me. I am safe. Four people from a car shot at in all directions," the minister told Reuters. Karunanayake claimed that the violence was aimed at discrediting the government.
Police officials said 15 people were wounded in the incident and three of them are in an intensive care unit.
"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," Keerthi Tennakoon, head of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), told AFP. CaFFE has reported 55 clashes related to the upcoming election in the last four weeks.
Sri Lanka will hold parliamentary elections on August 17 and the shooting is the latest act of political violence to hit the Indian Ocean island, which suffered from decades of instability during a civil war between the state and nationalists belonging to the ethnic Tamil minority that ended in 2009.
The country's Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya, who was recently granted more powers through a constitutional amendmendment, reportedly said "he will strictly enforce poll laws for a free and fair election," according to AFP.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved his country’s parliament on June 26, 160 days after assuming office.
Sirisena's predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa - who is accused of committing human rights abuses against Tamils during the final phase of the civil war - has announced that he will run for a parliamentary seat, hoping to stage a comeback as prime minister.