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Murdered editor's body exhumed by Sri Lankan police

Wickrematunga, chief editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, wrote an article before his death in which he forecast that the Rajapakse government would murder him. Photograph: (AFP)

AFP Colombo, Western Province, Sri Lanka Sep 27, 2016, 10.08 AM (IST)

Sri Lankan police on Tuesday exhumed the body of a prominent anti-establishment newspaper editor as part of an investigation into his murder, widely blamed on the regime of former strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse.

Lasantha Wickrematunga, a fierce critic of Rajapakse's government, was killed by unidentified gunmen as he drove to work in Colombo seven years ago.

The new administration has reopened the investigation into his killing, which sparked an international outcry and shone a spotlight on allegations of deadly violence directed against the media.

Wickrematunga, chief editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, wrote an article before his death in which he forecast that the Rajapakse government would murder him.

"When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me," wrote Wickrematunga, who endured years of harassment and intimidation for his work, in the article published in the Guardian and the New Yorker.

On Tuesday police swarmed onto Wickrematunga's grave site at Colombo's main cemetery and erected two white tents after a magistrate ordered a fresh autopsy.

"The magistrate is present with a team of doctors," said Athula S Ranagala, a lawyer for the Wickrematunga family, outside the cemetery where journalists were gathered. 

"The family is happy with the progress of the case," he added.

President Maithripala Sirisena last year slammed police for dragging their feet on investigations into the 52-year-old's death and into other high-profile murders during Rajapakse's rule.

Sirisena swept Rajapakse from office in a 2015 general election, pledging action against criminals and corrupt individuals during the former strongman's decade in power.

The case was reopened last year after a former minister in Rajapakse's government accused the deposed president's brother, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, of running a death squad and ordering the hit against the editor.

Gotabhaya, then secretary to the defence ministry, has denied any involvement. But rights groups say there is strong evidence the military played a role.

An army intelligence officer was arrested in July in connection with the killing.

(AFP)

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