May 23, 2019
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Bloody Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka with over 200 killed in blasts

(Update 7 - adds details)

Colombo, Apr 21 (efe-epa).- Sri Lanka experienced a bloody Easter Sunday with more than 200 people killed, including 30 foreigners, and 450 others injured in a series of explosions around the country.

The attacks began with six coordinated bomb blasts at 8:45 am at three luxury hotels in Colombo and three Christian churches around the country during Easter services.

Images circulated by local media showed the magnitude of the explosion in one of the churches, where the ceiling was partially destroyed and corpses were strewn throughout the rubble.

"Horrible scenes. I saw many body parts strewn all over. Emergency crews are at all locations in full force. We ... also have close to 20 units at the various locations. We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives," Harsha de Silva, the minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, posted to his Twitter account.

A few hours later, a seventh blast rocked a small hotel near the Dehiwala Zoo, which is located a dozen kilometers to the south of the capital, while an eighth explosion took place at a residential compound in Dematagoda, in Colombo.

A total of 202 people were killed in the first six explosions and 450 were injured, while the two later blasts left five more people dead, including three security officers, according to Sri Lanka Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara.

At least 32 foreigners were killed and another 30 were hospitalized, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman Kishu Gomes told EFE.

The foreigners known to have died are from Belgium, the United States, China and the United Kingdom, among other nations, Gomes added.

After the eight attacks, the government declared a state of emergency and police imposed a tight curfew.

The Education Ministry announced the closure of all schools in the country until Tuesday.

The National Blood Bank has asked people to stop thronging to its centers saying that they have sufficient blood and plasma reserves after crowds of residents queued up to make donations.

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called an emergency meeting with senior officials of the security forces and members of government shortly after the first attacks.

During a speech delivered later, Wickremesinghe revealed that security forces had received warnings of possible attacks around the country but officials did not pay enough attention, something that he said should be investigated.

"But first of all, what we should do is to make sure the country is not destabilized," he said.

The police spokesman announced that the security forces had arrested 13 people with suspected links to the attacks, although he provided no further details.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the authorities said that "extremists" were the authors of the attacks.

Whatsapp, Viber and Facebook have been temporarily blocked and mobile and Internet networks have been jammed, some local media outlets reported.

Addressing the nation, Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena called on the public to remain calm and not to pay attention to rumors.

So far, at least one Molotov cocktail attack targeted a mosque in an area inhabited mostly by Muslims in the western town of Puttalam and two shops in Bandaragama in the southern part of the capital were burned, various security officials told EFE.

The tragedy was condemned by several foreign heads of state and senior officials of many countries, including neighboring India, Pakistan and Indonesia, but also the European Union, Germany, Spain, the United States, a number of Latin American countries, the United Arab Emirates and churches in the Holy Land.

There have been a number of attacks against religious minorities on the island in the past.

In 2018, the government had to declare a state of emergency after violence erupted between Muslims and the majority Sinhalese Buddhists leading to two deaths and dozens of arrests.

However, attacks of this scale have not taken place since the civil war between Tamil rebels and the government which ended in 2009.

That 26-year conflict resulted in more than 40,000 civilian deaths, according to data provided by the United Nations.

Christians make up around seven percent of the Sri Lankan population, with Buddhists accounting for around 70 percent, followed by smaller numbers of both Hindus and Muslims.

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