POLITICAL violence has been so commonplace in Sri Lanka over the past decade that it takes the assassination of a president for the country to recapture the world's attention. An estimated 28,000 people have died since members of the minority Tamil community began a jungle war against the Sinhalese authorities in 1983, and while the rate of killings may have eased, the civil war continues to impoverish a significant proportion of the population, and brings particular hardship to the unfortunate inhabitants of the Jaffna peninsula. The politics of Sri Lanka are so muddy that it is often hard to know who is killing whom. The separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were widely blamed for the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, but attempts by the Colombo authorities to blame them for the murder last month of Sri Lankan opposition leader Mr Lalith Athulathmudali only served to heighten suspicions that forces loyal to the late Ranasinghe Premadasa were responsible. As the Tamil Tigers pointed out yesterday, Mr Premadasa himself had so many enemies that anyone might be responsible for killing him, despite his populist appeal to the majority population. Mr Premadasa may not, perhaps, have been the most gentle or subtle of politicians, but he largely succeeded in preventing Sri Lanka from degenerating into anarchy and disorder. However, he failed to groom an obvious successor, and his assassination threatens long-term political instability, as well as a possible immediate round of reprisal killings. What Sri Lanka most needs now is not a firm leader bent on defeating the Tamilinsurrection, but an imaginative one, capable of overcoming the antagonism between the two communities and of addressing the concerns of all Sri Lankans.