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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Panic in Colombo

Panic as Colombo faces air attack

The Sri Lankan capital was enveloped in "total panic" early yesterday as Tamil Tiger air attacks and unexpected early fireworks forced World Cup cricket fans to flee their parties for safety.

Fans dressed in Sri Lankan team T-shirts and carrying the national flag had earlier braved the rain to gather in their hundreds at playgrounds, clubs, hotels and bars showing live coverage of the match on giant screens.

However, the loud music, singing and dancing came to an abrupt end after the city was plunged into darkness as anti-aircraft batteries opened fire on Tamil Tiger aircraft that entered the city's airspace and carried out two bombings.

"It was total panic. We initially thought it was fireworks," said Zaithoon bin Ahamed, who was partying with friends at a Colombo rugby club. People scrambled to leave venues as troops manning key positions in the capital lit up the night sky with a massive barrage of anti-aircraft fire that shook homes and caused panic.

Event organisers at open-air venues shut down their giant screens, fearing the illumination would attract the attention of the intruding aircraft.

"Rumours were going around that a plane was shot down and the port was bombed. The phone lines were jammed," said Chamath Ariyadasa.

Authorities had earlier responded to reports of approaching rebel planes by switching off the electricity supply to the capital as millions of Sri Lankans watched their side play Australia in the cricket World Cup final.

While millions of fans were left in darkness, the national side crashed to an embarrassing defeat to three-times world champions Australia - AFP.