KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Sunday described an advisory issued by the US warning its citizens not to travel to the Southeast Asian country, as “lacking objectivity.”The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it “strongly protests” the US government’s decision to include Malaysia as one of 35 countries given a “K” indicator on April 9 in its travel advisory for this year. The indicator relates to “the risks of kidnapping and hostage-taking by criminal and terrorist actors around the world.” America raised concerns over the risk of potential kidnapping or hostage-taking situations in certain areas of eastern Sabah.The Malaysian government responded that the travel advisory “lacks objectivity” and does not reflect “the reality on the ground.”It went on to describe the security situation in eastern Sabah as “safe and protected for tourists.”The statement added: “This is borne out by the fact that the number of tourist arrivals in Sabah has grown by 5.5 percent, reaching 3.87 million last year. Further, the number of kidnapping incidents has dropped significantly to almost nil. Eastern Sabah continues to attract world-class divers.”The ministry said it has ramped up its security efforts with increased patrols, closer security cooperation with neighboring countries, and the strategic positioning of security assets in the areas mentioned, while urging the US to immediately remove Malaysia from the list. The state of Sabah is in the eastern part of Borneo Island, bordering Indonesia and Brunei. The island is close to Mindanao, in the southern part of the Philippines.Over the past few years, Sabah has been the site of several high-profile kidnappings for ransom by the Abu Sayyaf Jihadist group and other terrorist organizations from Mindanao. This month, a Malaysian fisherman died from gunshot wounds when he tried to escape from his Abu Sayyaf captors. He was reported missing along with two Indonesian fishermen in December last year. All three men were believed to have been kidnapped from their boat. Dr. Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News that despite the dire situation in Eastern Sabah, the travel advisory would not affect Malaysia’s tourism. ”To be blunt about it, this won’t affect Malaysia a lot, because most of the tourists who go to the surroundings of Semporna (in Eastern Sabah) are amateur or seasoned divers who will go there at all costs due to its designation as the world’s best diving spot,” he said. He added that most non-Americans, and even non-Europeans, are less influenced by US travel warning nowadays, as there are many other factors that would affect people’s decision to travel to a country. The other 34 countries given a “K” indicator in America’s 2019 travel advisory include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Syria, Turkey, and Yemen.
India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote
PORAC, Philippines: Rescuers found more bodies overnight in the rubble of a supermarket that crashed down in a powerful earthquake that damaged buildings and an airport in the northern Philippines, raising the death toll to 11, officials said Tuesday.The bodies of four victims were pulled from Chuzon Supermarket and three other villagers died due to…
PORAC, Philippines: Rescuers found more bodies overnight in the rubble of a supermarket that crashed down in a powerful earthquake that damaged buildings and an airport in the northern Philippines, raising the death toll to 11, officials said Tuesday.The bodies of four victims were pulled from Chuzon Supermarket and three other villagers died due to collapsed house walls, said Mayor Condralito dela Cruz of Porac town in Pampanga province, north of Manila.An Associated Press photographer saw seven people, including at least one dead, being pulled out by rescuers from the pile of concrete, twisted metal and wood overnight. Red Cross volunteers, army troops, police and villagers used four cranes, crow bars and sniffer dogs to look for the missing, some of whom were still yelling for help Monday night.Authorities inserted a large orange tube into the rubble to blow in oxygen in the hope of helping people still pinned there to breathe. On Tuesday morning, rescuers pulled out a man alive, sparking cheers and applause.“We’re all very happy, many clapped their hands in relief because we’re still finding survivors after several hours,” Porac Councilor Maynard Lapid told The Associated Press by telephone from the scene, adding another victim was expected to be pulled out alive soon.Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda said at least 10 people died in her province, including those who perished in hard-hit Porac town. The 6.1-magnitude quake damaged many houses, concrete roads, bridges, Roman Catholic churches and an international airport terminal at Clark Freeport, a former American air base, in Pampanga. Another child died in nearby Zambales province, officials said.At least 24 people remained missing in the rice-growing agricultural region, mostly in the rubble of the collapsed supermarket in Porac, while 81 others were injured, according to the government’s disaster-response agency.The four-story building housing the supermarket crashed down when the quake shook Pampanga as well as several other provinces and the capital, Manila, on the main northern island of Luzon. The quake was caused by movement in a local fault at a depth of 12 kilometers (8 miles) near the northwestern town of Castillejos in Zambales province, said Renato Solidum, who heads the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.More than 400 aftershocks have been recorded, mostly unfelt.The US Geological Survey’s preliminary estimate is that more than 49 million people were exposed to some shaking from the earthquake, with more than 14 million people likely to feel moderate shaking or more.Clark airport was closed temporarily because of damaged check-in counters, ceilings and parts of the departure area, airport official Jaime Melo said, adding that seven people were slightly injured and more than 100 flights were canceled.In Manila, thousands of office workers dashed out of buildings in panic, some wearing hard hats, and residents ran out of houses as the ground shook. Many described the ground movement like sea waves.One of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, the Philippines has frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions because it lies on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a seismically active arc of volcanos and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.A magnitude 7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people in the northern Philippines in 1990.
Sri Lanka military gets special powers after deadly bombings
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s president gave the military sweeping police powers starting Tuesday in the wake of the Easter bombings that killed nearly 300 people, while officials disclosed that intelligence agencies had warned weeks ago of the possibility of an attack by the radical Muslim group blamed for the bloodshed.The suicide bombings struck three…
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s president gave the military sweeping police powers starting Tuesday in the wake of the Easter bombings that killed nearly 300 people, while officials disclosed that intelligence agencies had warned weeks ago of the possibility of an attack by the radical Muslim group blamed for the bloodshed.The suicide bombings struck three churches and three luxury hotels Sunday in the island nation’s deadliest violence since a devastating civil war ended in 2009. The government shut down some social media, armed security forces patrolled the largely deserted, central streets in the capital of Colombo, and a curfew went into effect.The military was given a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects — powers that were used during the civil war but withdrawn when it ended.Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could unleash instability and he vowed to “vest all necessary powers with the defense forces” to act against those responsible.Adding to the tension, three unexploded bombs blew up Monday inside a van parked near one of the stricken churches as police were trying to defuse them, sending pedestrians fleeing in panic. No injuries were reported. Dozens of detonators were discovered near Colombo’s main bus depot, but officials declined to say whether they were linked to the attacks.The government blocked access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram after the blasts, creating confusion and doing little to reassure residents and visitors that the danger had passed.A nationwide state of emergency was scheduled to begin at midnight Monday (0630 GMT; 2:30 p.m. EDT) the president’s office said, following the attacks that killed at least 290 people, with more than 500 wounded, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara. The three stricken hotels and one of the churches, St. Anthony’s Shrine, are frequented by tourists, and dozens of foreigners were among the dead.Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said 39 foreigners were killed, although the foreign ministry put out a different figure, saying the number of dead was 31.The US State Department confirmed that at least four Americans were among the dead and several others were seriously wounded, but it did not release any identities. The Sri Lankan government said other foreigners killed were from the UK, Bangladesh, China, India, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and Australia.A national day of mourning was declared for Tuesday.International intelligence agencies had warned that the little-known group, National Thowfeek Jamaath, was planning attacks, but word apparently didn’t reach the prime minister’s office until after the massacre, exposing the continuing political turmoil in the highest levels of the Sri Lankan government.Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said the intelligence agencies began issuing the warnings on April 4; the defense ministry wrote to the police chief with information that included the group’s name; and police wrote April 11 to the heads of security of the judiciary and diplomatic security division.President Maithripala Sirisena, who was out of the country Sunday, had ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in October and dissolved the Cabinet. The Supreme Court later reversed his actions, but the prime minister has not been allowed into meetings of the Security Council since October, which meant he and his government were in the dark about the intelligence.It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken after the threats. Authorities said they knew where the group trained and had safe houses, but did not identify any of the suicide bombers, whose bodies were recovered, or the two dozen other suspects taken into custody.All the bombers were Sri Lankans, but authorities said they strongly suspected foreign links, Senaratne said.Also unclear was a motive. The history of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, a country of 21 million including large Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities, is rife with ethnic and sectarian conflict.In the civil war, the Tamil Tigers, a powerful rebel army known for using suicide bombers, was crushed by the government and had little history of targeting Christians. While anti-Muslim bigotry fed by Buddhist nationalists has swept the country recently, there is no history of Islamic militancy. Its small Christian community has seen only scattered incidents of harassment.Two other government ministers also alluded to advance knowledge. Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando tweeted: “Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.” He said his father had heard of a possible attack as well and had warned him not to enter popular churches.Mano Ganeshan, the minister for national integration, said his security officers had been warned by their division about the possibility that two suicide bombers would target politicians.Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, said the attacks could have been thwarted.“We placed our hands on our heads when we came to know that these deaths could have been avoided. Why this was not prevented?” he said.The coordinated blasts took place in the morning at St. Anthony’s and the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo, as well as the two churches outside Colombo. They collapsed ceilings and blew out windows, killing worshippers and hotel guests, and leaving behind scenes of smoke, soot, blood, broken glass, screams and wailing alarms.A few hours later, two more blasts occurred just outside Colombo, one at a guesthouse where two people were killed, the other near an overpass, said Brig. Sumith Atapattu, a military spokesman.Also, three police officers were killed while searching a suspected safe house on the outskirts of Colombo when its occupants apparently detonated explosives to prevent arrest, authorities said.A pipe bomb with 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of explosives was found and defused late Sunday on a road to the international airport, said air force Group Capt. Gihan Seneviratne. It was powerful enough to have caused damage in a 400-meter (400-yard) radius, he said.A morgue worker in Negombo, outside Colombo, where St. Sebastian’s Church was targeted, said many bodies were hard to identify because of the blasts. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.Nilantha Lakmal, a 41-year-old businessman who took his family to St. Sebastian’s for Mass, said they all escaped unharmed, but he remained haunted by images of bodies being taken from the sanctuary.At the Shangri-La Hotel, one witness said “people were being dragged out” after the blast.“There was blood everywhere,” said Bhanuka Harischandra, 24, of Colombo, a founder of a tech marketing company who was going to the hotel for a meeting. “People didn’t know what was going on. It was panic mode.”The scale of the violence recalled the worst days of the civil war, when the Tamil Tigers, from the ethnic Tamil minority, sought independence from the Sinhalese-dominated country. The Sinhalese are largely Buddhist. The Tamils are Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India, is about 70% Buddhist. In recent years, tensions have soared between hard-line Buddhist monks and Muslims.Two Muslim groups in Sri Lanka condemned the church attacks, and Pope Francis expressed condolences at the end of his traditional Easter blessing in Rome. The United Nations’ most powerful body, the Security Council, also denounced the “heinous and cowardly terrorist attacks.”US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Washington that he spoke to the prime minister and offered assistance. Later, the FBI said it was helping with the investigation.“This is America’s fight, too,” he said. “We also stand with millions of Sri Lankans who support the freedom of their fellow citizens to worship as they please. We take confidence in knowing that not even atrocities like this one will deter them from respecting religious freedom.”
Mexico breaks violence record in first quarter of 2019
COLOMBO: Bhanuka Harischandra was running a little late for his meeting Sunday.As a car carrying him pulled into the back entrance of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo, he realized something was wrong.People were telling him not to come in, it wasn’t safe. Still, the car pulled around to the front…
COLOMBO: Bhanuka Harischandra was running a little late for his meeting Sunday.As a car carrying him pulled into the back entrance of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo, he realized something was wrong.People were telling him not to come in, it wasn’t safe. Still, the car pulled around to the front of the hotel and Harischandra saw the aftermath of a bombing. People were being evacuated, others were being dragged. Blood and ambulances were everywhere.“It was panic mode,” Harischandra, a 24-year-old founder of a tech marketing company, said by telephone later in the day. “I didn’t process it for a while.”He decided to go to the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, where he thought it would be safe. But just after he was dropped at the luxury hotel and about to enter the building, he heard another bomb go off.Now he was being evacuated. Soot and ash fell on his white sweat shirt.His car had left, so he hailed a motorized rickshaw and went to meet friends at a coffee shop. They contacted other friends, trying to make sure everyone they knew was safe.It was too soon to think about what it might mean.Over the course of the day, eight bombs exploded at churches and luxury hotels, killing more than 200 people. The Easter Sunday violence was the deadliest the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.Many Sri Lankans remember well the terror of the 26-year war. But not Harischandra, who was just a teenager when it officially ended. Toward the end, the conflict was not in Colombo. Growing up, he was mostly aware of his parents’ anxiety about safety, not of actual fighting.Now their anxiety is back.“For them, it’s a bit of a different situation,” he said. “They’re afraid this might start racial violence.”On Sunday night, he was with his family, observing a curfew. He said there was “a lot of tension” in the air, but he was also hoping that the worst might be over: It had been a few hours since the last blast.Harischandra was heartened by the fact that his social media feed was flooded with photos of the lines of people waiting to give blood. Lines so long “you can’t see the end.”