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COPTER CRASH KILLS 'KINGMAKER,' 14 OTHERS

A Muslim politician often called the "kingmaker" was killed along with 14 others Saturday when a Sri Lankan air force helicopter crashed into a hill and exploded, officials said.

Ports Minister Mohammed Ashraff was traveling between the capital -- Colombo -- and Ampara, 130 miles to the east, where he was to attend election meetings.

Police ruled out the possibility that the Mi-17 helicopter had been shot down by Tamil rebels, who are fighting to establish a separate homeland in Sri Lanka.

The crash was caused by "a technical failure," an air force spokesman said.

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