Ranasinghe Premadasa (June 23, 1924 – May 1, 1993) was the 3rd President of Sri Lanka from January 2, 1989 to May 1, 1993. Before that, he served as the Prime Minister in the government headed by J. R. Jayewardene from February 6, 1978 to January 1, 1989. He was assassinated in Colombo in a suicide bombing, by the LTTE.
This is a recalling of that day by Evans Cooray,
Around 4.30 in the morning of May Day 1993 my telephone rang. Having worked for Mr. Premadasa for over 25 years, even as I tumbled out of bed I had no doubt in my mind who could be calling me at that time.
The President was brief and crisp. He instructed me to meet him at Sucharitha, his private residence at 7.00 am. I reminded him that he has assigned me with the special task of seeing to the last minute arrangements at the main stage at Galle Face Green the venue of the afternoon mammoth meeting where he wanted special facilities for the media. He said that nevertheless he wished to see me at 7.00 am.
At Sucharitha, his private residence at St Sebastian in Hulftsdorp, there were gathered at that time along with myself, the President’s Private Secretary, F. D. Balasuriya, Personal Assistant K. P. Dayaratne and Sucharitha staffers including his valet M. P. M. Mohideen. President Premadasa was an absolute stickler for time. Never one minute late for an appointment, nor a minute early. Sharp at 7.00. he called all of us to his room upstairs adjacent to his bedroom. His instructions to us were short and precise, giving the impression of a military field commander who knew what he was about and as always, though cordial, his voice rang with authority and power, commanding compliance.
He assigned various tasks for each of us and my task was to gather some statistical data, which he needed for his May Day speech later that day. Having gathered the data, around 12.00, from the Presidential Secretariat I rushed off to the Sugathadasa Stadium where I expected to find the President. However, upon hearing that he had already joined the procession which was wending its way towards Armour Street I sped in that direction and found the President already at the Armour Street Junction. Ignoring the insistent advice of his personal security staff he had dismounted from his Range Rover and was directing the flow of the procession.
As I walked up to him he saw me from a distance and called me to him. The time was 12.32 to be precise. Pointing to his wristwatch he said that it was now time to convey to the SLBC the progress of the rally for 12.45 news. I carried out the instructions by using the mobile phone which was in my hand. When I reported back to him that I have phoned the SLBC and given the news to the News Editor he asked me to stand by for further instructions and along with the President’s valet Mohideen and many others including his security staff who were helping the President direct the procession ,I stood by. I watched the main body of the procession pass by, led by Ministers Ranil Wickremesinghe, Festus Perera and Gamini Lokuge and many others whom the President greeted and instructed to proceed.
At that moment another stream of the procession emerged from Messenger Street led by the supporters of his own electorate Colombo Central and the President, waded into the crowd and started organising them to march four abreast. Right at that moment my mobile phone rang. It was my daughter wanting to speak to me. Because I could not hear her voice clearly above the din of the slogan shouting procession I had to move some distance from where the President was standing, towards the Sulaiman’s Hospital. It was at that precise moment that tragedy struck.
There was an almighty explosion and in a second the scene was transformed into a battlefield. Shattered body parts were hurled into the air. The road around was splattered with blood and parts of flesh, broken limbs and decapitated heads. There was screaming and shouting everywhere and where moments earlier there was an orderly procession, now there was chaos and mayhem. The transformation had taken all of a second.
I ran forward not knowing what to do. I reached the residence of a Colombo Municipal Councillor in the nearby De Mel Housing Scheme where a large crowd had gathered. I telephoned Mr. K. H. J. Wijayadasa Secretary to the President and he too said that the news of a bomb explosion had reached him and asked me to come back to the Secretariat.
K. D. Ranjith a staffer at the Presidential Press secretariat who was all along behind me went back to the scene and called my official car. We went back to the scene and terrified and confused, looked for my President. It was like a battlefield with police cars and ambulances running round. I could not find him, or his bodyguards. Knowing the drill that the body guards had practised so many times, which is to bundle the President away immediately there is a hint of danger to his life, I assumed that he had been hustled away to some place. Our car sped along the opposite direction via Kosgashandhiya to Sucharitha Private Residence of the President, where several thousands of agitated supporters had gathered inquiring after his safety.
Before I could leave for the Presidential Secretariat the President’s wife, Mrs. Hema Premadasa rang the Sucharita residence from Kandy and anxiously inquired after the President and not knowing what to say, just to console her I said, ‘ Madame I think he is all right’
Then I hurried back to the Presidential Secretariat and to my surprise found a large group of media men both foreign and local gathered outside the office. As there was still no official confirmation as to what had happened to the President I accompanied by Anthony Fernando my long time friend and Senior Assistant Secretary (Information) in my office went back to Sucharitha and we found that the May Day procession was still proceeding towards the Galle Face Green.
As there was still no news of what had actually happened we returned to the Presidential secretariat where we learnt the grim truth officially for the first time. President Premadasa and all those who were around him at that moment had perished in the explosion. Had my daughter not telephoned me at that very moment making it necessary for me to leave the spot in order that I may hear her above the din, I would not be writing this article today.
As I walked down from the upper floor where Mr. D. B. Wijetunga was sworn in as the Acting President before the Chief Justice the telephone on my table rang and it was from the News Desk of the BBC who wanted to speak to me. I said that I was not in a mood to talk and asked them to ring me later. After few minutes the telephone rang again and I overheard the announcer in the midst of reading news and saying that they are now switching over to Sri Lanka and asked’ Mr. Cooray can you confirm the story about the bomb explosion’?.
Not realising that my answers are being relayed all over the World live I gave a brief description of what really took place and about the death of the President. Thereafter I summoned both the local and foreign media men and held a brief Press Conference. The whole world learnt about the death of the President through the BBC news broadcast at intervals while the SLBC announced his death officially only in the afternoon.