The country’s finance minister, Ravi Karunanayake, was at the meeting in Kotahena, a suburb of the capital, Colombo. He said he had been leaving when gunmen in a car started spraying bullets into the crowd of about 500 attendees.
“I was the target,” Mr. Karunanayake said. “This was an act of political terrorism.”
Though he was only 20 feet from the shooting, he escaped uninjured, he said.
The episode was the first major violence in a campaign that has been highly charged, with the return of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as an opposition candidate for Parliament.
Mr. Karunanayake’s party leads a broad political coalition that defeated Mr. Rajapaksa in his bid for re-election as president in January. The coalition has since regrouped to try to prevent Mr. Rajapaksa from winning a majority in the Aug. 17 election and becoming prime minister.
Mr. Karunanayake said he suspected that the shooting on Friday may have been meant to help Mr. Rajapaksa’s political comeback by spreading fear of terrorism before the election.
“The attack was unprovoked,” he said. “These were just innocent people.”
Mr. Rajapaksa’s spokesman, Rohan Welivita, dismissed Mr. Karunanayake’s suspicion in a telephone interview, saying it was “ridiculous” and “irresponsible” for a government minister to make such a suggestion.
“Mr. Karunanayake is not the police,” Mr. Welivita said. “He cannot reach this conclusion without a complete investigation.”
He continued: “We totally deny these charges. Mr. Rajapaksa is in the Southern Province campaigning today. He has nothing to do with this violence.”
The Center for Monitoring Election Violence, a local watchdog group, said the gunmen were dressed in black and arrived in two unmarked black cars. Citing police reports, the group said that 16 shell casings had been found at the scene, indicating that at least that many rounds were fired.
Five of the wounded people were critically injured and are in the intensive care unit at a government hospital in Colombo, the group said.(New York Times)