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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…

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 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military was given a wider berth to detain and arrest suspects — powers that were used during the civil war but withdrawn when it ended.Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he feared the massacre could unleash instability and he vowed to “vest all necessary powers with the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.”

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Britain’s Hunt: Iran one year away from nuclear bomb

BRUSSELS: The remaining parties to the Iran nuclear deal do not see Tehran’s breaches as significant and do not intend for now to trigger the pact’s dispute mechanism, preferring more diplomacy to ease the crisis, the EU foreign policy chief said on Monday.She spoke at the end of an European Union foreign ministers meeting after…

Britain’s Hunt: Iran one year away from nuclear bomb

BRUSSELS: The remaining parties to the Iran nuclear deal do not see Tehran’s breaches as significant and do not intend for now to trigger the pact’s dispute mechanism, preferring more diplomacy to ease the crisis, the EU foreign policy chief said on Monday.She spoke at the end of an European Union foreign ministers meeting after Britain said there was only a “small window” of time to salvage the deal, while Iran warned it would ramp up uranium enrichment if the EU failed to do more to that end.US-Iranian tensions have escalated since US President Donald Trump decided last year to abandon the nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to curtail its atomic program in return for relief from economic sanctions crippling its economy.The EU ministers drew no conclusions on what action should next be taken to head off a feared US-Iranian conflict. But by suggesting that Iran’s non-compliance was not significant, it could anger the United States, which last week warned it would intensify sanctions on Iran over its breaches, and it did prompt an immediate outcry from Israel, Iran’s regional arch-enemy.“For the time being, none of the parties to the agreement has signalled their intention to invoke this article,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a news conference in Brussels, referring to a mechanism to punish non-compliance.“(It) means that none of them for the moment, for the time being with the current data we have had in particular from the (UN nuclear watchdog) IAEA, (consider Iran’s) non-compliance…to be significant non-compliance.”IAEA inspectors last week confirmed Iran is now enriching uranium to 4.5 percent fissile purity, above the 3.67 percent limit set by its deal, the second breach in as many weeks after Tehran exceeded limits on its stock of low enriched uranium.The level at which Iran is now refining uranium is still well below the 20 percent purity of enrichment Iran reached before the deal, and the 90 percent needed to yield bomb-grade nuclear fuel. Low-enriched uranium provides fuel for civilian power plants.British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said earlier in the day that Iran remained “a good year away from developing a nuclear bomb.” He told reporters in Brussels: “There is still some closing, but small window to keep the deal alive.”Under the terms of the deal, if any party believes another is not upholding their commitments they can refer the issue to a Joint Commission comprising Iran, Russia, China, the three European powers, and the European Union.This activates a dispute mechanism that could eventually end with a restoration of global, UN sanctions against Iran. Mogherini said a joint commission meeting was possible, although when and at what level had yet to be decided.She indicated that for now the EU would focus on diplomatic efforts to save the nuclear deal, which signatories in 2015 touted as essential to ward off the risk of a wider Middle East war jeopardizing global energy supplies.“The deal is not in good health, but it’s still alive. We hope and we invite Iran to reverse these steps and go back to full compliance with the agreement,” Mogherini, adding that they were all reversible.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the EU’s response on Monday, saying it recalled failed diplomacy with Nazi Germany in the run-up to World War Two.“(It) reminds me of the European appeasement of the 1930s,” Netanyahu said in a video statement.“Then, too, there were those who stuck their head in the sand and did not see the approaching danger,” said Netanyahu, who has often cast Iran’s nuclear projects as a mortal menace to Israel and the wider world. Iran denies seeking a nuclear bomb.The Brussels gathering had been called to flesh out ways of convincing Iran and the United States to reduce tensions and start a dialogue amid fears the 2015 deal is close to collapse.Fears of direct US-Iranian conflict have risen since May with several attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, Iran’s downing of a US surveillance drone, and a plan for US air strikes on Iran last month that Trump called off at the last minute.In reaction to the reimposition of tough US sanctions, which have notably targeted Iran’s vital oil revenue stream, Tehran has cut some of its nuclear commitments under the deal.That led the European parties to the pact, France, Britain and Germany, to warn Tehran not to shred the deal’s terms.Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom suggested the Europeans would leave the door open for diplomacy but that Tehran should exercise restraint.“It improves their chances of having a good discussion with the EU and other partners in the JCPOA (Iran deal),” she told reporters. “We encourage them to use all diplomatic means and create new diplomatic channels …to de-escalate the tense situation. We have to use every opportunity to keep the deal.”The Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy agency said Tehran would return to the situation before the nuclear deal unless European countries fulfilled their obligations.“These actions are not taken out of stubbornness but to give diplomacy a chance,” agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said.“And if the Europeans and America don’t want to fulfil their commitments we will create a balance in this deal by reducing commitments and return the situation to four years ago.”Iran says the European countries must do more to guarantee it the trade and investment dividends it was due to receive in return for UN-monitored limits to its nuclear capacity under the deal.

 

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Hong Kong police demand better protection ahead of more protests

BRUSSELS: British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday that there was still time to save the Iran nuclear deal and that despite the United States being Britain’s closest ally it disagreed on how to handle the Iran crisis.“Iran is still a good year away from developing a nuclear bomb. There is still some closing,…

Hong Kong police demand better protection ahead of more protests

BRUSSELS: British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday that there was still time to save the Iran nuclear deal and that despite the United States being Britain’s closest ally it disagreed on how to handle the Iran crisis.“Iran is still a good year away from developing a nuclear bomb. There is still some closing, but small window to keep the deal alive,” Hunt told reporters on arrival for a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.The Brussels meeting will seek to flesh out how to convince Iran and the United States to reduce tensions and initiate a dialogue amid fears that the 2015 deal is close to collapse.US-Iranian tensions have worsened since US President Donald Trump decided last year to abandon the nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to curtail its atomic program in return for relief from economic sanctions crippling its economy.In reaction to the re-imposition of tough US sanctions, which have notably targeted Iran’s main oil revenue stream, Tehran has scaled back on some of its nuclear commitments under the deal, leading the European parties to the pact, France, Britain and Germany, to warn it about not fully complying with the terms.The three powers, who are party to the deal alongside Russia and China, have sought to defuse the tensions, which culminated in a plan for US air strikes on Iran last month that Trump called off at the last minute.

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Police fire tear gas to disperse protesters from Champs Elysees after Bastille Day parade

Police fire tear gas to disperse protesters from Champs Elysees after Bastille Day parade PARIS: French police fired tear gas to disperse protesters from the Champs Elysees avenue on Sunday, a few hours after President Emmanuel Macron had presided over the Bastille Day military parade alongside other European leaders.The boulevard in central Paris was reopened…

Police fire tear gas to disperse protesters from Champs Elysees after Bastille Day parade

Police fire tear gas to disperse protesters from Champs Elysees after Bastille Day parade

PARIS: French police fired tear gas to disperse protesters from the Champs Elysees avenue on Sunday, a few hours after President Emmanuel Macron had presided over the Bastille Day military parade alongside other European leaders.The boulevard in central Paris was reopened to traffic as soon as the parade finished but a few hundred protesters from the grassroots ‘yellow vests’ movement tried to occupy it.France’s BFM television showed images of police firing tear gas to disperse the protesters, some hooded, who tried to block the road with metal barricades, dustbins and other debris.Several loud bangs could be heard. Protesters hurled objects at the police, booed and set a bin on fire.Earlier, a French police source and a court source said some 152 ‘yellow vest’ protesters and their leaders had been detained near the Champs Elysees as they tried to stage a protest.

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