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24 Hours Across Africa

Sri Lanka Update: Hundreds of Muslim flee Negombo fearing for their safety after threats of revenge from locals.

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Source: Reuters

As mourners buried the remains of Christian worshippers killed by the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, hundreds of Muslim refugees fled Negombo on the country’s west coast where communal tensions have flared in recent days.

At least 359 people perished in the coordinated series of blasts targeting churches and hotels. Church leaders believe the final toll from the attack on St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo could be close to 200, almost certainly making Negombo the deadliest of the six near-simultaneous attacks.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Pakistani Muslims fled the multi-ethnic port an hour north of the capital, Colombo. Crammed into buses organized by community leaders and police, they left fearing for their safety after threats of revenge from locals.

“Because of the bomb blasts and explosions that have taken place here, the local Sri Lankan people have attacked our houses,” Adnan Ali, a Pakistani Muslim, told Reuters as he prepared to board a bus. “Right now we don’t know where we will go.”

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, yet despite Islamic State being a Sunni jihadist group, many of the Muslims fleeing Negombo belong to the Ahmadi community, who had been hounded out of Pakistan years ago after their sect was declared non-Muslim.

The fallout from Sunday’s attacks appears set to render them homeless once more.

Farah Jameel, a Pakistani Ahmadi, said she had been thrown out of her house by her landlord.

“She said ‘get out of here and go wherever you want to go, but don’t live here’,” she told Reuters, gathered with many others at the Ahmadiyya Mosque, waiting for buses to take them to a safe location. “I HAVE NOTHING NOW”

Sri Lanka’s government is in disarray over the failure to prevent the attacks, despite repeated warnings from intelligence sources.

Police have detained an unspecified number of people were detained in western Sri Lanka, the scene of anti-Muslim riots in 2014, in the wake of the attacks, and raids were carried out in neighborhoods around St Sebastian’s Church.

Police played down the threats to the refugees, but said they have been inundated with calls from locals casting suspicion on Pakistanis in Negombo.

“We have to search houses if people suspect,” said Herath BSS Sisila Kumara, the officer in charge at Katara police station, where 35 of the Pakistanis that gathered at the mosque were taken into police custody for their own protection, before being sent to an undisclosed location.

“All the Pakistanis have been sent to safe houses,” he said. “Only they will decide when they come back.”

Two kilometers away, makeshift wooden crosses marked the new graves at the sandy cemetery of St Sebastian’s Church, as the latest funerals on Wednesday took the number buried there to 40.

Channa Repunjaya, 49, was at home when he heard about the blast at St Sebastian’s. His wife, Chandralata Dassanaike and nine-year-old daughter Meeranhi both died.

“I felt like committing suicide when I heard that they had died,” he told Reuters by the open graves. “I have nothing now.”

Meeranhi’s grandmother, with her head still bandaged after being wounded in the attack, was held by a relative as the first handfuls of earth were scattered upon her child-sized coffin.

Most of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are Buddhist, but the Indian Ocean island’s population includes Muslim, Hindu and Christian minorities. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflict and communal tensions.

There were signs of some religious communities pulling together following Sunday’s outrage.

Saffron- and scarlet-robed Buddhist monks from a nearby monastery handed out bottled water to mourners who gathered under a baking afternoon sun.

But the town, which has a long history of sheltering refugees – including those made homeless by a devastating tsunami in 2004 – may struggle to recover from Sunday’s violence, said Father Jude Thomas, one of dozens of Catholic priests who attended Wednesday’s burials.

“Muslims and Catholics lived side by side,” he said. “It was always a peaceful area, but now things have come to the surface we cannot control.”

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24 Hours Across Africa

Iran faces sanction over uranium breach plan

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Source: Reuters

Iran said on Monday it would breach internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium in 10 days — a move likely to worsen tensions with Washington — but it added European nations could still save a nuclear deal that sets those limits.

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In an indication of concern at Iran’s announcement, Germany urged Tehran to meet all its obligations under the 2015 accord. Britain said if Iran breached limits agreed under the deal then London would look at “all options”.

Close U.S. ally Israel, Iran’s arch foe, urged world powers to step up sanctions against Tehran swiftly should it exceed the enriched uranium limit.

U.S.-Iran tensions are growing following accusations by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration that Tehran last Thursday attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil shipping route. Iran denies having any role.

Iran’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, on Monday denied Tehran was behind the attacks and said if the Islamic Republic decided to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane it would do so publicly.

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said Tehran was responsible for security in the Gulf and urged U.S. forces to leave the region, state TV said.

In an announcement drawing signs of Western unease, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment (of uranium) and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit.”

“Iran’s reserves are every day increasing at a more rapid rate,” he told state TV, adding that “the move will be reversed once other parties fulfill their commitments.”

Tehran said in May it would reduce compliance with the nuclear pact it agreed with world powers in 2015, in protest at the United States’ decision to unilaterally pull out of the agreement and reimpose sanctions last year.

The deal seeks to head off any pathway to an Iranian nuclear bomb in return for the removal of most international sanctions.

The accord requires Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity, capping Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent or its equivalent for 15 years.

A series of more intrusive U.N. inspections under the deal have verified that Iran has been meeting its commitments.

Urging European signatories to hasten efforts to salvage the accord, President Hassan Rouhani said its collapse would not be in the interests of the region or the world.

“It’s a crucial moment, and France can still work with other signatories of the deal and play an historic role to save the deal in this very short time,” Rouhani was quoted as saying during a meeting with France’s new ambassador in Iran.


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24 Hours Across Africa

China backs Hong kong leader

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Source: Reuters

China doubled down on its support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday after days of protests in the Chinese-ruled city over a planned extradition bill, and a source close to Lam said Beijing was unlikely to let her go even if she tried to resign.

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Lam’s attempts to pass a bill that would allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited to China to stand trial triggered the biggest and most violent protests in the former British colony in decades.

As the political crisis entered its second week, demonstrators and opposition politicians braved intermittent rain to gather near the government’s offices and call for the bill to be killed and for her to step down.

The upheaval comes at a delicate time for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is grappling with a deepening U.S. trade war, an ebbing economy and regional strategic tension.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return to Beijing in 1997, allowing freedoms not granted to the mainland, including an independent judiciary, but short of a fully democratic vote.

Many residents are increasingly unnerved by Beijing’s tightening grip and what they see as the erosion of those freedoms, fearing that changes to the rule of law could imperil its status as a global financial center.

“The Chinese government, the central government, has always fully affirmed the work of chief executive Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong government,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news conference.

The comments echoed remarks over the weekend from the government’s Hong Kong and Macau policy office.

“The central government will continue to firmly support the chief executive and the SAR government’s governing in accordance with the law,” he said, referring to the “special administrative region” of China.


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