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15 killed after fierce gun battle in Sri Lanka

Policemen patrol in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 26, 2019. (Xinhua/Wang Shen/IANS)
Policemen patrol in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 26, 2019. (Xinhua/Wang Shen/IANS)
A total of 15 people were killed following a fierce gun battle between Sri Lankan forces and an armed group in Kalmunai city, the military said on Saturday.
 
A military official told Xinhua news agency that terrorists opened fire when the Sri Lankan troops were attempting to raid a safe house used by the armed group affiliated to an Islamic terrorist organisation.
 
Some suicide bombers later blew themselves up inside the safe house.
 
Among the bodies recovered inside the house, were three men, three women and six children, the Daily Mirror reported. 
 
Three more bodies of men suspected to be the suicide bombers were found outside the house.
 
Search operations are ongoing to see if more suspected terrorists are hiding in the surrounding areas and the entire area remains cordoned off.
 
A curfew is still in place in Kalmunai and its surrounding areas after it was imposed on Friday night.
 
Earlier on Friday evening, the military said security forces also had recovered flags belonging to the Islamic State, literature and some other objects from a house in the Ampara district also in the east, which is said to be the terrorist organisation's place for oath-taking. 
 
On Friday, 10 people were arrested from across the country bringing the number detained since the Easter Sunday bombings to 80.
 
Sunday's explosions killed 253 people and injured over 500 in one of the bloodiest days in Sri Lanka since the civil was ended a decade ago.
 
IANS
 

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Sri Lanka reduces toll to 253, Defence Secretary quits

 
Sri Lanka on edge with scares and lock-downs
Sri Lanka on Thursday revised down the toll in the Easter Sunday bloodbath to "about 253" even as Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned accepting responsibility for the attack and security forces continued a search for accomplices of the suicide bombers.
 
The government also banned the use of all drones and unmanned aircraft within the Sri Lankan airspace with effect from Thursday and also kept its new visa-on-arrival programme, which was to be implemented from May 1, on hold due to the security situation in the island nation.
 
Bringing down the toll by over 100 from 359 to "about 253", the Health Ministry blamed "a calculation error" for the higher figure, the BBC reported.
 
After submitting his resignation, Fernando said that while there was no failure on his own part, he was taking responsibility for the failures of some institutions which were under his command.
 
President Maithripala Sirisena, who himself has come under attack from the opposition for failing to prevent the mass killings, had earlier asked the Defence Secretary and the police chief to quit.
 
Tourism, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga said that investigations had revealed foreign links to the attacks and the government did not want the visa-on-arrival facility to be abused.
 
Tourism was one of the worst hit industries following the deadly blasts on Sunday in three Sri Lankan cities, primarily in and around Colombo. 
 
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack that also left 500 injured but Colombo has blamed a local Muslim group, the National Thowheed Jamath (NJT).
 
The Sri Lanka Police released photographs of six young suspects - three males and three females - wanted in connection with the bombings. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) sought public assistance to trace them.
 
The six were identified as: Mohammad Ivuhaim Sadiq Abdul Haq, Mohammed Ivuhaim Shaid Abdul Haq and Mohammed Casim Mohammed Rilwan (all men) and Fatima Latif, Pulasthini Rajendran alias Sarah, Abdul Cader Fatima Kadir (all women).
 
It was not clear if the six were linked to the National Thowheed Jamath.
 
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On Thursday, security forces set up checkpoints and stepped up random checking of vehicles across Sri Lanka.
 
In the morning, at around 9 a.m., a minor explosion took place in a garbage dump behind the Magistrate's Court in Pugoda, 36 km from Colombo, reported Xinhua news agency.
 
After the blast, police advised the general public not to panic, said the Daily Mirror. 
 
In an indication that all was not well in Sri Lanka, Israel's Counter-Terrorism Bureau raised the threat level to indicate a "high concrete" mark and advised travellers to leave the island and avoid visiting it in the near future, CNN reported. 
 
Although four days have passed since the bloodbath, Sri Lanka remains on the edge. Schools and colleges remain shut and a general sense of insecurity prevails. 
 
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told CNN that some attackers responsible for the Easter Sunday bombings were being monitored by the intelligence services but there was not "sufficient" evidence to put them in custody before the attacks.
 
He reiterated that the attackers were middle- and upper-middle class and had been educated abroad. He added that the profile of the suspected bombers was "surprising".
 
Police are holding the wealthy father of two of the suicide bombers on suspicion of aiding and abetting his sons to carry out Easter Sunday attacks.
 
Mohamed Yusuf Ibrahim, a spice moghul, was arrested on Sunday following attacks at hotels and churches. His adult sons, Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim and Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim, blew themselves up in two different attacks earlier that day.
 
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said five safe houses had been raided in the country. 
 
More than 70 suspects have been taken into custody on a range of charges. Of these, four were female and all are Muslims. None is a foreigner.
 
The Easter Sunday marked the bloodiest day in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war a decade ago.
 
IANS
 

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India, China in US' black list for IP theft

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China continues to head the "black list" prepared by the US government on intellectual property theft and patent violations worldwide, a list including 11 countries and which also includes Argentina, Chile and Venezuela.
 
In its "Special 301" annual report for 2018, the Office of the US Trade Representative Office (USTR) identifies "trading partners that do not adequately or effectively protect and enforce intellectual property (IP) rights or otherwise deny market access to US innovators and creators that rely on protection of their IP rights."
 
The "black list" includes 11 countries: Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Venezuela, the Efe news reported. 
 
The report "identifies foreign trading partners where IP protection and enforcement has deteriorated or remained at inadequate levels and where US persons who rely on IP protection have difficulty with fair and equitable market access."
 
The USTR document says that although Beijing did make some modest reforms to its judicial system over the past few years, it has not yet changed certain laws that enable Chinese firms to violate the intellectual property rights of foreign firms, including online piracy, counterfeiting and registering trademarks in bad faith, among other things.
 
Specifically, the question of intellectual property is one of the main points of friction in the current trade negotiations between China and the US designed to put an end to the tariff and trade war launched by US President Donald Trump and to which Beijing has responded with similar measures.
 
In second place on the list is India, with the USTR emphasising "longstanding deficiencies" in its IP framework and a lack of adequate measurable improvements concerning patents, copyrights, trade secrets and enforcement, along with new issues that are negatively affecting US right holders.
 
Chile and Venezuela had been on the list last year, while Argentina was added this year because of "longstanding and well-known challenges to IP-intensive industries, including from the US. A key deficiency in the legal framework for patents is the unduly broad limitations on patent eligible subject matter," the report states.
 
The report acknowledges "progress" by Chilean authorities but emphasises that there continues to be significant digital piracy in that country, while regarding Venezuela the USTR warns that "significant uncertainty and deterred investments in innovation and IP in recent years" have placed it considerably below international standards.
 
IANS
 

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Islamic State claims Sri Lanka bloodbath, toll 321

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The Islamic State on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the horrific Easter Sunday suicide bombings in Sri Lanka as the death toll in the carnage climbed to 321, including 10 Indians, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warning of more explosives and militants "out there" and that the Indian Embassy was also a "possible target".
 
The Islamic State's claim came as Sri Lankans started to bury the dead from the string of bombings. Tuesday was declared a national day of mourning and white flags were hung from buildings across Colombo as a three-minute silence was held from 8.30 a.m, about the time of the first of Sunday's bombings.
 
At St. Sebastian's in Negombo, around 40 km north of Colombo, more than 20 coffins were brought in for individual services in the run-up to a mass memorial. A few hundred metres away, a palm-lined lot donated to the church was turned into a mass burial site, where 22 bodies were laid to rest. 
 
An Arabic language statement on the Islamic State group's official al-Amaq news agency made the claim on an encrypted messaging app, saying the suicide bombers were "fighters of the Islamic State".
 
"The perpetrators of the attack that targeted nationals of the crusader alliance (anti-IS US-led coalition) and Christians in Sri Lanka were Islamic State fighters," the brief message said.
 
Tuesday's statement came after an unconfirmed video posted to social media by an affiliated group suggested that the Islamic State was behind the Easter horror. That video showed photos of three of the alleged suicide bombers.
 
The men, who are described as "assailants" rather than the more common "martyrs", were named as Abul Barra, Abul Mukhtar and Abu Ubaida and featured in front of a black IS flag giving the one-finger salute, the news.com of Australia said.
 
Wickremesinghe on Tuesday warned that there were more explosives and militants "out there". He also acknowledged there was a prior warning of the attacks and said some officials would likely lose their jobs over intelligence lapses.
 
He also said there was a fourth failed attack on another major hotel and that the Indian Embassy was also a "possible target".
 
Sri Lankan authorities were making progress in identifying the culprits and evidence had been found on foreign links of the attacks, he added. 
 
About the Islamic State's claim, the Prime Minister said: "We will be following up on IS claims. We believe there may be links." 
 
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Earlier in the day, Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said that the Easter attacks were a "retaliation" for last month's Christchurch mosque shootings that left 50 Muslims dead and were blamed on a white supermacist from Australia
 
Authorities have so far named a Sri Lankan Muslim group, the National Thowheed Jamath (NJT), for the Sunday bombings which left over 500 injured.
 
The Islamic State's and the Defence Minister's claim give an international dimension to the Sunday carnage that killed mostly Sri Lankans but also some 40 foreigners, including from the US and other Western countries as well as 10 Indians.
 
The Indian High Commission said that with the death of two more Indians, the Indian death toll had risen to 10.
 
Earlier on Tuesday, bomb disposal squads were called to Kollupitiya railway station in Colombo after an unattended package was found on a train. A state of emergency has been introduced and 40 arrests made, with the second overnight curfew lifted at 4 a.m.
 
A Syrian was among those arrested and a massive search operation was going on to nab more suspects. The government has suggested that seven suicide bombers were involved in the bombings.
 
A footage has also emerged of a suspected suicide bomber wearing a sky blue shirt and jeans and carrying a backpack, casually walking into an Easter congregation at St Sebastian's church in Negombo where he blew himself up. 
 
The series of attacks on Sunday began with six nearly simultaneous explosions targeting three luxury hotels in Colombo and three churches - one in Colombo, another in Negombo and the third in the Tamil-majority Batticaloa town in the island's east.
 
Hours later, a seventh blast took place in a small hotel near the Colombo zoo killing two persons. 
 
The last of the bombings occurred when police raided a residential complex in Dematagoda, a neighbourhood in Colombo, but a terrorist detonated himself killing three policemen and also the wife and sister of one of the suicide bombers. 
 
Sunday was the deadliest day in the country since the end of a civil war between Tamil Tigers and government forces that began in 1983 and ended in 2009.
 
The police in Colombo issued an alert that a van or truck carrying explosives may be in Colombo following which security was stepped up at government buildings and police stations.
 
IANS
 

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US ends waivers for India to buy Iranian oil

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The US announced on Monday it is ending the waiver given to India to buy Iranian oil and has threatened sanctions if it did not comply with the embargo.
 
Announcing the end of the waivers, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "Trump has decided not to reissue Significant Reduction Exceptions (SREs) when they expire in early May. This decision is intended to bring Iran's oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue."
 
When the US imposed sanctions on Iran in November, India and seven other countries were given exemptions that will expire May 2.
 
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later told reporters that countries that do not abide by the embargo will face sanctions. They will encounter sanctions that will affect their international financial transactions, he said.
 
"We stand by our allies and partners as they transition away from Iranian crude to other alternatives," Pompeo added.
 
The US was increasing oil production and was working with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ensure that there will be no disruptions in oil supplies as a result of the ending of the waivers, according to Pompeo.
 
In May 2018, Trump withdrew from the 2105 international agreement with Iran on de-nuclearisation that had ended sanctions on that country. 
 
In November, Trump re-imposed tough sanctions on Iran but gave India, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece six-month temporary waivers to continue buying oil.
 
India was reportedly importing about 1.25 million tonnes of oil per month from Iran.
 
IANS
 

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Muslim group blamed for Sri Lanka horror, 8 Indians among 290 dead

Sri Lanka on Monday blamed a local Muslim outfit for the horrific Easter Sunday suicide bombings which killed 290 people, including eight Indians, and said the attacks were "a colossal intelligence failure".
 
Sri Lanka says attacks carried out by suicide bombers
Sri Lanka on Monday blamed a local Muslim outfit for the horrific Easter Sunday suicide bombings which killed 290 people, including eight Indians, and said the attacks were "a colossal intelligence failure".
 
At the same time, President Maithripala Sirisena announced that he would seek the assistance of foreign countries as "intelligence reports (indicate) that foreign terrorist organisations are behind the local terrorists". 
 
On Monday, 87 detonators were found from the main bus station at Pettah in Colombo while a bomb the security forces were trying to defuse exploded near the St Anthony Church in Colombo, triggering panic in the area.
 
More than 500 people were wounded, many seriously, in the Sunday horror and were admitted in hospitals even as the government investigated the complex network that meticulously targeted three luxury hotels in Colombo and a church each in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa besides two other locations in the national capital. 
 
While no group has claimed responsibility for the bloodbath, the government said that the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), a Sri Lankan Muslim group, carried out the attacks, stunning the island nation that had not seen such gore since the end of the civil war a decade ago.
 
Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne told the media: "NTJ was involved. It is a local organisation. We don't know whether they are linked to outsiders. All those arrested are locals."
 
But he, too, admitted that without an international network, "these attacks could not have succeeded".
 
Senaratne called the well-planned attacks a "colossal intelligence failure" and stated that, despite receiving prior information, they could not be prevented. He demanded the resignation of the Inspector General of Police. 
 
"As a government, we apologize to families and other institutions. The problem is that even when we met the Prime Minister at the Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister was also in the dark," he said. 
 
The government said it will hold an official funeral on Tuesday to pay tributes to the nearly 300 people killed on Easter Sunday.
 
With schools shut nationwide and traffic on a low key, Sri Lanka reeled under the shock of the terror attack. 
 
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Authorities said eight Indians were among the over 30 foreigners killed in the multiple explosions. Five of them were Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) activists from Karnataka who were on a holiday after the end of Lok Sabha elections in Bengaluru.
 
They were identified as Shivanna, K.G. Hanumantharaya, M. Rangappa, K.M. Laxminarayan and Lakshmana Gowda Ramesh. Earlier, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj named three other Indians who died: Ramesh, Lakshmi and Narayan Chandrashekhar. 
 
An improvised explosive device (IED) was also detected near the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on Monday morning and was disposed of in controlled explosion by the Sri Lanka Air Force, according to the Daily Mirror.
 
Police said that they had seized a van and its driver who allegedly transported some suspects into Colombo and also raided a safe house used by the attackers. 
 
Some two dozen suspects have been arrested.
 
There were curbs on some social media networks to try and stop misinformation from spreading.
 
The first of the eight blasts took place on Sunday morning in three luxury hotels -- Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-la, Kingsbury -- in the heart of Colombo and in a church each in Colombo, Negombo, 30 km from here, and in the Tamil-majority Batticaloa town in the island's east that was once a Tamil Tiger stronghold.
 
Later in the afternoon, another blast hit a guest house near the zoo in Dehiwala in Colombo, killing two persons, and a housing complex at Dematogoda in the city leaving three policemen dead.
 
Sri Lanka's National Security Council on Monday announced plans to impose a "conditional state of Emergency" from midnight.
 
It said the measures would target terrorism and would not limit freedom of expression.
 
Meanwhile, the US State Department said that terrorist groups continued to plot possible attacks in Sri Lanka and urged Americans visiting that country to exercise increased caution.
 
IANS
 

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India tells China to be sensitive to its concerns

Vijay Gokhale
Vijay Gokhale
India on Monday told China to be sensitive to its concerns as Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale met Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi here, with whom he is likely to raise the issue of blacklisting Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar.
 
Gokhale is on two-day China visit to meet Wang, also China's Foreign Minister, and is expected to convince Beijing not to block a resolution to declare Azhar an international terrorist at a UN panel.
 
Azhar, a dreaded terrorist, is wanted for plotting deadly attacks in India. His terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for carrying out a suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama on February 14 that killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force troopers.
 
China has repeatedly blocked all such resolutions by India, the US, Britain and France by placing a "technical hold" on them at the UN 1267 sanctions committee.
 
Last month, Beijing's placed its latest "technical hold" on the US-sponsored resolution against Azhar, a move that India called "disappointing".
 
"We will work together with the Chinese side to deepen mutual understanding, strengthen mutual trust to implements the decisions that are taken by the leaders and do it in a manner where we are sensitive to each other's concerns," Gokhale said while meeting Wang and Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou.
 
Gokhale, who was also India's former Ambassador to China, said both sides were working to implement what was agreed between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Wuhan summit last year.
 
"It's been a year since our leaders met in Wuhan and my colleagues, Vice (Foreign) Minister Kong Xuanyou and I have been following up on efforts to see that to implement the understandings that were reached at the meeting.
 
"Last year, we had very brisk political exchanges including your visit to Delhi for the first high-level meeting between for people to people exchange was an important development. And my Minister (Foreign) looks forward to coming for the second meeting in China later this year," he added. 
 
Wang stressed the need for India and China to step up strategic communication and cooperation.
 
"China and India are two major countries and neighbours. They are also two emerging market countries and are each other's emerging partners.
 
"In this sense, it's very important for the two countries to work together to increase strategic communications even the geopolitical trust and strategic cooperation on international and regional issues."
 
Beijing's latest move to shield Azhar has tested Sino-Indian ties that had been on an upswing after Modi and Xi's ice-breaking meeting last year.
 
Gokhale's visit comes at a time when Beijing is facing mounting international pressure to declare Azhar an international terrorist.
 
It is to be seen if India's opposition to the Belt and Road forum will figure in the talks.
 
India is likely to skip for the second straight year China's Belt and Road forum, a mega event that Beijing claims will be attended by the heads of 37 countries and over 100 international organisations.
 
The Belt and Road is a trillion-dollar project that aims to connect Asia, Africa and Europe through a network of highways, sea lanes and ports.
 
India opposes its key artery, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as it cuts through the disputed part of Kashmir held by Islamabad.
 
In 2017, India had boycotted the launch of the forum over the same issue.
 
In a press conference on April 20, Wang appealed to India again to shed its inhibition on the CPEC, saying the project has nothing to do with the Kashmir issue.
 
He said India joining the Belt and Road project will be a good choice for it.
 
IANS
 

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5 Indians among 290 dead in Sri Lanka bombings

Five Indians are among the 290 people who have been confirmed dead in the deadly Easter Sunday suicide bombings in Sri Lanka, as police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera on Monday confirmed that 24 suspects have been arrested for their involvement in the island's bloodiest attacks in a decade.
 
Sri Lanka bombings death toll passes 200
Five Indians are among the 290 people who have been confirmed dead in the deadly Easter Sunday suicide bombings in Sri Lanka, as police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera on Monday confirmed that 24 suspects have been arrested for their involvement in the island's bloodiest attacks in a decade.
 
On Monday morning, the Indian High Commission in Colombo confirmed the names of two more Indian victims.
 
"We sadly confirm the deaths of the following two individuals in the blasts yesterday: K.G. Hanumantharayappa, M. Rangappa," the Mission said in a tweet.
 
The Monday morning tweet came after Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday night had confirmed the names of three other Indian nationals -- Lakshmi, Narayan Chandrashekhar and Ramesh.
 
Meanwhile, Gunasekera also said that 500 people were injured and were admitted in various hospitals and medical facilities.
 
He said that the police has seized a van and its driver who is suspected of transporting the suspects into Colombo and also raided a safe house used by the attackers. 
 
No group has yet claimed direct responsibility yet.
 
The first of the eight blasts took place on Sunday morning in three luxury hotels -- Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-la, Kingsbury -- in the heart of Colombo and in a church each in Colombo, Negombo, 30 km from here, and in the Tamil-majority Batticaloa town in the island's east that was once a Tamil Tiger stronghold.
 
Later in the afternoon, another blast hit a guest house near the zoo in Dehiwala in Colombo, killing two persons, and a housing complex at Dematogoda in the city leaving three policemen dead.
 
IANS
 

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4 Indians among 207 killed in Sri Lanka mayhem

At least 207 people were killed and 469 injured when eight suicide bombings, mainly in Colombo, ravaged Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in the island's bloodiest day since the civil war ended a decade ago. Four Indians, two of them women. were among the dead while some others had a narrow escape.
 
Sri Lanka bombings death toll passes 200
At least 207 people were killed and 469 injured when eight suicide bombings, mainly in Colombo, ravaged Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in the island's bloodiest day since the civil war ended a decade ago. Four Indians, two of them women. were among the dead while some others had a narrow escape.
 
Sri Lanka declared a nationwide curfew and placed curbs on social media to kill fake news after suicide bombers carried out a string of well-planned explosions targeting luxury hotels and Catholic churches in Colombo and elsewhere, triggering international outrage.
 
The first of the eight blasts took place in the morning in three luxury hotels in the heart of Colombo and in a church each in Colombo, Negombo, 30 km from here, and in the Tamil-majority Batticaloa town in the island's east that was once a Tamil Tiger stronghold.
 
In the afternoon, another blast hit a guest house near the zoo in Dehiwala in Colombo, killing two persons, and a housing complex at Dematogoda in the city leaving three policemen dead.
 
A total of 27 foreigners, including four Indians and also people from Turkey, the US, Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal and China, perished in the mayhem. 
 
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, quoting official reports from Colombo, identified the Indians as Lakshmi, Narayan Chandrashekhar and Ramesh. 
 
The fourth was a Kerala woman holidaying in Colombo. P.S. Razeena, 58, had arrived there along with her husband to meet their relatives engaged in business there and was staying at one of the three hotels targeted by suicide bombers.
 
Razeena and her husband, who hail from Kerala's Kasargode, lived in Dubai. 
 
Many Indians, including noted Indian Tamil actress Radikaa Sarathkumar and a party of businessmen from Andhra Pradesh's Anantpur, had a narrow escape. Radikaa tweeted that she was staying at the Cinnamon Grand, located near the official residence of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, and had just left it prior to the blast there. 
 
Authorities said a total of eight suspects had been arrested but gave no further details. 
 
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Officials and survivors painted a horrific picture of what happened.
 
Kieran Arasaratnam, who was staying in the Shangri-La, one of the three hotels, said he heard what sounded like a "thunder", forcing him to sprint all the way down from the 17th floor, BBC reported.
 
He saw the second floor restaurant gutted and realized he was alive only because he delayed his breakfast.
 
In Cinnamon Grand, survivors said that a suicide bomber had joined the line at the breakfast buffet and detonate the explosives.
 
Member of European Parliament, Nirj Deva said he had just arrived at one of the hotels after the blast and saw scenes of carnage all around.
 
The bloodbath started around 8.30 a.m. at the St Anthony's Shrine at Kochchikade in Colombo during Easter Mass where one man said he heard a booming explosion and saw virtually the whole roof come crashing down. "We just ran," he told the media.
 
The other places hit were St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, the Zion Church in Batticaloa, 250 km east of Colombo, and the Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury Hotels.
 
Photos and videos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost fully blown away in the blast. The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood, media reports said.
 
Many people could be seen covered in blood. Some helped those with more serious injuries. Ambulances, their sirens wailing, rushed the dead and seriously injured to hospitals -- once a familiar sight in Colombo.
 
Minister of Economic Reforms Harsha de Silva described the carnage. "Horrible scenes. I saw many body parts strewn all over," he said.
 
No one claimed responsibility for the bloodbath but AFP reported that Sri Lankan Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara had issued a nationwide alert 10 days ago warning that suicide bombers planned to hit prominent Catholic churches.
 
The Daily Mirror newspaper quoted the findings of initial investigations as saying that the first six major blasts were caused by suicide bombers and added that two of them had checked a day earlier into the Shangri-La Hotel.
 
It said that the investigators who broke into Room No 616 "had recovered materials used by radical" Islamist extremists. The Mirror said it was not clear if the bombers were Sri Lankans or foreigners.
 
The government declared a state of emergency, imposed indefinite curfew across the nation and temporarily blocked Facebook and Instagram to curb the spread of fake news. All schools were ordered shut until Tuesday. 
 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on phone with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, called the terror attacks "cold-blooded and pre-planned" barbarism and offered all help from New Delhi.
 
Condemnation was fast and swift from across the world: China, the US, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pope Francis, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Ireland, Britain, Germany, Singapore, the Philippines, Israel, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Egypt, New Zealand, Canada and the European Commission denounced the killings.
 
A Sri Lankan Tamil journalist, V. Thanabalasingham, told IANS that a sense of panic had gripped Colombo, which had given up its overbearing security cover ever since the Tamil Tigers were crushed in May 2009, leading to a decade of peace.
 
President Sirisena urged the public to be calm and cooperate with the authorities to conduct swift investigations into the blasts. "I am shocked and saddened by the situation."
 
AFP said a foreign intelligence agency had reported that the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), a Muslim group blamed for attacks on Buddhist shrines, was planning to carry out suicide attacks against prominent churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo.
 
Although Christians form only around 7 per cent of the Sri Lanka's mainly Buddhist population, they are found both in the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities. 
 

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3 Indians among 207 killed in Sri Lanka mayhem

At least 207 people were killed and 469 injured when eight suicide bombings, mainly in Colombo, ravaged Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in the island's bloodiest day since the civil war ended a decade ago. Three Indians were among the dead.
 
Death toll rises after Easter blasts in Sri Lanka
At least 207 people were killed and 469 injured when eight suicide bombings, mainly in Colombo, ravaged Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in the island's bloodiest day since the civil war ended a decade ago. Three Indians were among the dead.
 
Sri Lanka declared a nationwide curfew and placed curbs on social media to kill fake news after suicide bombers carried out a string of well-planned explosions targeting luxury hotels and Catholic churches in Colombo and elsewhere, triggering international outrage.
 
The first of six blasts took place in the morning in three luxury hotels in the heart of Colombo and in a church each in Colombo, Negombo, 30 km from here, and in the Tamil-majority Batticaloa town in the island's east that was once a Tamil Tiger stronghold.
 
In the afternoon, another blast hit a guest house near the zoo in Dehiwala in Colombo, killing two persons, and a housing complex at Dematogoda in the city leaving three policemen dead.
 
A total of 27 foreigners, including three Indians and also people from Turkey, the US, Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal and China, perished in the mayhem. 
 
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, quoting official reports from Colombo, identified the Indians as Lokashini, Narayan Chandrashekhar and Ramesh.
 
Authorities said a total of seven suspects had been arrested but gave no further details. 
 
Officials and survivors painted a horrific picture of what happened.
 
Kieran Arasaratnam, who was staying in the Shangri-La, one of the three hotels, said he heard what sounded like a "thunder", forcing him to sprint all the way down from the 17th floor, BBC reported.
 
He saw the second floor restaurant gutted and realized he was alive only because he delayed his breakfast.
 
The bloodbath started around 8.30 a.m. at the St Anthony's Shrine at Kochchikade in Colombo during Easter Mass where one man said he heard a booming explosion and saw virtually the whole roof come crashing down. "We just ran," he told the media.
 
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The other places hit were St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, the Zion Church in Batticaloa, 250 km east of Colombo, the Cinnamon Grand hotel, located near the official residence of the Prime Minister, and Kingsbury Hotel.
 
Photos and videos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost fully blown away in the blast. The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood, media reports said.
 
Many people could be seen covered in blood. Some helped those with more serious injuries. Ambulances, their sirens wailing, rushed the dead and seriously injured to hospitals -- once a familiar sight in Colombo.
 
Minister of Economic Reforms Harsha de Silva described the carnage. "Horrible scenes. I saw many body parts strewn all over," he said.
 
No one claimed responsibility for the bloodbath but AFP reported that Sri Lankan Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara had issued a nationwide alert 10 days ago warning that suicide bombers planned to hit prominent Catholic churches.
 
The Daily Mirror newspaper quoted the findings of initial investigations as saying that the first six major blasts were caused by suicide bombers and added that two of them had checked a day earlier into the Shangri-La Hotel.
 
It said that the investigators who broke into Room No 616 "had recovered materials used by radical" Islamist extremists. The Mirror said it was not clear if the bombers were Sri Lankans or foreigners.
 
The government declared a state of emergency, imposed indefinite curfew across the nation and temporarily blocked Facebook and Instagram to curb the spread of fake news. All schools were ordered shut until Tuesday. 
 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on phone with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, called the terror attacks "cold-blooded and pre-planned" barbarism and offered all help from New Delhi.
 
Condemnation was fast and swift from across the world: China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Ireland, Britain, Germany, Singapore, the Philippines, Israel, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Egypt, New Zealand, Canada and the European Commission denounced the killings.
 
A Sri Lankan Tamil journalist, V. Thanabalasingham, told IANS that a sense of panic had gripped Colombo, which had given up its overbearing security cover ever since the Tamil Tigers were crushed in May 2009, leading to a decade of peace.
 
President Sirisena urged the public to be calm and cooperate with the authorities to conduct swift investigations into the blasts. "I am shocked and saddened by the situation."
 
AFP said a foreign intelligence agency had reported that the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), a Muslim group blamed for attacks on Buddhist shrines, was planning to carry out suicide attacks against prominent churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo.
 
Although Christians form only around 7 per cent of the Sri Lanka's mainly Buddhist population, they are found both in the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities. 
 
IANS

Indian actress has narrow escape in Colombo

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Noted Indian Tamil actress Radikaa Sarathkumar had a narrow escape when she left one of the three hotels in the Sri Lankan capital just before it was bombed on Sunday.
 
Radikaa tweeted that she was staying at the Cinnamon Grand, located near the official residence of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister.
 
"OMG bomb blasts in SL, God be with all. I just left Cinnamon Grand hotel and it has been bombed. Can't believe this. Shocking," she tweeted.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 
 

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Sri Lanka mayhem on Easter Sunday kills 192

Sri Lanka declared a nationwide curfew after suicide bombers carried out a string of well-planned deadly explosions, mostly in Colombo, on Easter Sunday leaving 192 dead and 470 injured in the island's bloodiest day since the civil war ended a decade ago.
 
Easter Day bombs kill over 100 in attacks on Sri Lankan churches, hotels
Sri Lanka declared a nationwide curfew after suicide bombers carried out a string of well-planned deadly explosions, mostly in Colombo, on Easter Sunday leaving 192 dead and 470 injured in the island's bloodiest day since the civil war ended a decade ago.
 
Starting around 8.30 a.m. when the first blast ripped apart the St Anthony's Shrine at Kochchikade here during Easter Mass, five more powerful explosions followed, hitting a total of three luxury hotels in Colombo and also St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, 30 km from here, and the Zion Church in the eastern district of Batticaloa, 250 km east of Colombo.
 
Just as authorities thought they had the situation under control, another blast went off in the afternoon near a restaurant close to the Dehiwala zoo in Colombo, killing two persons, and the Colombo neighbourhood of Dematogoda killing another three persons.
 
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on phone with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, called the terror attacks "cold-blooded and pre-planned" barbarism and offered all help from New Delhi.
 
No one claimed responsibility for the bloodbath but AFP reported that Sri Lankan Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara had issued a nationwide alert 10 days ago warning that suicide bombers planned to hit prominent Catholic churches.
 
The Daily Mirror newspaper quoted the findings of initial investigations as saying that the first six major blasts were caused by Islamist suicide bombers and added that two of them had checked a day earlier into the Shangri-La Hotel, one of the three hotels targeted in Colombo.
 
It said that the investigators who broke into Room No 616 "had recovered materials used by radical" Islamist extremists. The Mirror said it was not clear if the bombers were Sri Lankans or foreigners.
 
Authorities said that 35 foreigners were among the dead but their nationalities were not clear. 
 
Besides Shangri-La, the other hotels hit were Cinnamon Grand, located near the official residence of the Prime Minister, and Kingsbury Hotel.
 
A Sri Lankan journalist, V. Thanabalasingham, told IANS over telephone that a sense of panic had gripped Colombo, which had given up its overbearing security apparatus ever since the Tamil Tigers were crushed in May 2009, leading to a decade of peace.
 
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Photos and videos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost fully blown away in the blast. The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood, media reports said.
 
Many people could be seen covered in blood. Some helped those with more serious injuries. Ambulances, their sirens wailing, rushed the dead and seriously injured to hospitals -- once a familiar sight in Colombo.
 
Minister of Economic Reforms Harsha de Silva described the carnage. "Horrible scenes. I saw many body parts strewn all over," he said.
 
President Sirisena urged the public to be calm and cooperate with the authorities to conduct swift investigations into the blasts. "I am shocked and saddened by the situation."
 
The government had imposed indefinite curfew across the nation and has temporarily blocked Facebook and Instagram to curb the spread of fake news. 
 
AFP quoted the police warning as saying that a foreign intelligence agency had reported that the National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ), a Muslim group blamed for attacks on Buddhist shrines, was planning to carry out suicide attacks against prominent churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo.
 
Although Christians form only around 7 per cent of the Sri Lanka's mainly Buddhist population, they are found both in the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities. 
 
IANS
 

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Sri Lanka suicide bombings on Easter kill 138

At least 138 people were killed and more than 400 injured when a string of suicide bombings rocked luxury hotels and churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in the island's bloodiest day since the end of the civil war, media reports said.
 
Easter Day bombs kill over 100 in attacks on Sri Lankan churches, hotels
At least 138 people were killed and more than 400 injured when a string of suicide bombings rocked luxury hotels and churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in the island's bloodiest day since the end of the civil war, media reports said.
 
The deadly explosions rocked at least three luxury hotels and a church each in Colombo, in Katana, some 50 km north of the capital, and in the eastern province of Batticaloa around 8.45 a.m. when hundreds were gathered to celebrate Easter.
 
The state-run Daily News newspaper put the fatalities at 138 and said at least 402 were injured. Many of the injured were said to be in serious condition. But other news outlets gave varying casualty figures, ranging from 70 to 100.
 
Minister of Economic Reforms Harsha de Silva, who visited a few of the attack sites, described the carnage.
 
"Horrible scenes. I saw many body parts strewn all over. Emergency crews are at all locations in full force. (...) We took multiple casualties to hospital. Hopefully saved many lives," Efe news quoted the Minister as saying.
 
Images circulated in local media showed the magnitude of the explosion in at least one of the churches, where the ceiling had been partially destroyed, and corpses were strewn around among the rubble, Efe reported.
 
Rescuers desperately looked for survivors. 
 
The Minister said that some of the casualties were foreigners. 
 
President Maithripala Sirisena, in a special message which was read out on local news channels, urged the public to remain calm and cooperate with the authorities to conduct swift investigations into the blasts, reported Xinhua news agency.
 
"I am shocked and saddened by the situation that has occurred. Investigations have been launched to look into what conspiracy is behind these heinous acts. Please remain calm and do not be fooled by rumours," Sirisena said.
 
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.
 
Christians in Sri Lanka had been celebrating the Easter Sunday, an important festival marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the culmination of week-long festivities. 
 
Christians form around 7 per cent of the Sri Lankan population, with the Buddhists accounting for around 70 per cent, followed by Hindus and Muslims. 
 
Sri Lanka's dragging civil war involving the government and the Tamil Tigers ended in May 2009, leading to a decade of peace.
 
IANS
 

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40 killed, more than 250 injured in Sri Lanka explosions

 
Explosions hit three Sri Lankan churches, three hotels
At least 40 people were killed and more than 250 others injured on Sunday as explosions ripped through three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, media reports said.
 
According to the island nation's The Daily Mirror newspaper, explosions were reported as hundreds of worshipers gathered at the St. Anthony's Church in Kochchikade, Kotahena, St. Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya in Katana, and the Zion church in Batticaloa to commemorate Easter Sunday.
 
The other three blasts where reported at the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury five-star hotels in Colombo. 
 
Of the 40 victims, 25 were killed in Batticaloa, according to the Batticaloa Teaching Hospital.
 
Colombo National Hospital sources said that more than 100 injured were admitted.
 
An emergency meeting has been called over the attacks, Minister Harsha De Silva said in a tweet.
 
"Secretary of Defence and I am at Kochchikade Church. We were also at Shangri-La and Kingsbury Hotels. Rescue operations are underway. Many casualties have been reported including foreigners," he said and requested people to stay calm and indoors.
 
Images on social media showed the inside at the St. Sebastian church with a shattered ceiling and blood on the pews, the BBC said.
 
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.
 
IANS

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Explosions in Sri Lanka churches, hotels

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Explosions were reported on Sunday at three churches in Sri Lanka as Christians celebrated Easter and also in two five-star hotels, the media reported.
 
The blasts took place at the St. Anthony's Church in Kochchikade, Kotahena, the St. Sebastian's Church in Katuwapitiya in Katana and a third in Batticaloa, reports the Daily Mirror newspaper.
 
The daily said that there were reports of several casualties including foreign tourists.
 
IANS
 
 
 
 

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N. Korea tests tactical weapon: State media

 
North Korea oversees test of new weapon -KCNA
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has supervised the test-firing of a new tactical guided weapon, calling its development an "event of very weighty significance" in beefing up its military power, state media reported on Thursday.
 
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the test took place on Wednesday but did not specify what the newly developed weapon was, reports Yonhap News Agency. 
 
It was the first time since November 2018 that the North's leader oversaw a weapons testing, and the visit to the testing centre came a day after he visited an air force unit.
 
"The development and completion of this weapons system will be a great historic event in strengthening the combat capability of the People's Army," the KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
 
"I was often completely moved in admiration at the time of strategic weapons development but seeing this it seems our scientists, engineers and the labour class is truly great. If they are willing then no weapon is beyond creation."
 
The report said the North Korean leader "climbed the observation post to observe the new tactical guided weapons firing test plan and gave directions".
 
Kim also set the "phased and strategic goals" for maintaining the country's munitions production, putting national defence science and technology on a "cutting edge level", and ordering "detailed tasks and ways to attain them".
 
Meanwhile, no missile launch was detected by US Northern Command and Strategic Command, according to US Department of Defence officials.
 
Experts have said that the new weapon could be a newly developed short-range guided or cruise missile. 
 
They also said that Kim's attendance at the test-firing could be aimed at sending a warning message to the US without becoming overly provocative.
 
The test-firing came after Kim suggested a year-end deadline for denuclearization negotiations following the breakdown of his February summit with US President Donald Trump in Vietnam.
 
February's summit fell apart as the two leaders failed to find common ground over how to match Pyongyang's denuclearization steps with Washington's sanctions relief.
 
IANS
 

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29 killed in bus accident on Portuguese island

 
At least 29 killed in Madeira tourist bus accident
At least 29 people have died after a bus carrying German tourists plunged off a road and overturned on the Portuguese island of Madeira.
 
Another 27 were injured in the accident near the town of Canico.
 
The accident happened on Wednesday evening when the driver lost control of the bus at a junction and went off the road, the BBC reported on Thursday citing Portuguese news agency Lusa.
 
The overturned vehicle came to rest near houses.
 
"I have no words to describe what happened. I cannot face the suffering of these people," Mayor Filipe Sousa told broadcaster SIC TV.
 
He said all the tourists on the bus were German but some local people could also be among the casualties. Eleven of the fatalities were men and 17 women, Sousa added. 
 
The bus was reported to be carrying 55 passengers, as well as the driver and a tour guide.
 
Another woman later died of her injuries in hospital.
 
The scene of the crash has been sealed off and the injured transferred to a hospital in the island's capital, Funchal, Lusa said. An investigation into the crash has been launched.
 
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is flying to the island to visit the scene.
 
Prime Minister Antonio Costa has sent a message of condolence to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
 
IANS

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Notre Dame fire under control, main structure saved

 
Paris' historic Notre-Dame Cathedral hit by fire
A devastating fire that engulfed the Notre Dame, the 850-year-old UNESCO world heritage landmark in Paris, was brought under control on Tuesday, while the Cathedral's main structure as well as its two towers has been saved, the city's fire brigade has confirmed.
 
"The fire is completely under control. It is partially extinguished, there are residual fires to put out," the Guardian quoted a fire brigade spokesman as saying on Tuesday morning.
 
Some 500 firefighters worked to prevent one of the bell towers from collapsing, according to fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet, adding that several invaluable artefacts had also been rescued from the burning cathedral.
 
The fire began at around 6.30 p.m., on Monday and quickly caused the collapse of the Cathedral's spectacular Gothic spire and the destruction of its roof structure, which dated back to the 13th century.
 
Consumed by flames, the spire leaned to one side and fell onto the burning roof as horrified onlookers watched.
 
Parisians raised their voices in song on Monday night outside the burning Cathedral which is one of the city's most revered historic sites.
 
French President Emmanuel Macron praised firefighters for saving the Cathedral's iconic facade and towers, saying "the worst has been avoided", CNN reported.
 
Yet he lamented the damage already done to "the Cathedral of all French people". He asked the country to commit to rebuilding Notre Dame together, announcing an international fundraising campaign to raise money for the repairs. 
 
"Notre Dame is our history, it's our literature, it's our imagery. It's the place where we live our greatest moments, from wars to pandemics to liberations... This history is ours. And it burns. It burns and I know the sadness so many of our fellow French feel."
 
A site taking online donations has been launched.
 
The cause of the fire is not yet clear. Officials have said that it could be linked to the renovation work that began after cracks appeared in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable, the BBC reported.
 
Paris prosecutor's office said it had opened an inquiry into "accidental destruction by fire". 
 
Several churches around Paris rang their bells in response to the blaze, which happened as Catholics celebrate Holy Week.
 
The Vatican said the Holy See learned with "shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, symbol of Christianity, in France and in the world".
 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered her support to the people of France, calling Notre-Dame a "symbol of French and European culture".
 
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UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a tweet: "My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre-Dame cathedral".
 
US President Donald Trump said it was "horrible to watch" the fire and suggested that "flying water tankers" could be used to extinguish the blaze.
 
UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres said: "Horrified by the pictures coming from Paris with the fire engulfing Notre Dame Cathedral - a unique example of world heritage that has stood tall since the 14th century..."
 
The Notre Dame's foundation stone was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander III, and the Cathedral was completed in the 13th century. 
 
Today, with its towers, spire, flying buttresses and stained glass, Notre Dame is considered a feat of architecture as well as a major religious and cultural symbol of France. It is one of Paris' most popular attractions, drawing an estimated 13 million visitors a year.
 
It was the site of Napoleon Bonaparte's coronation as Emperor in 1804. The central spire was built in the 19th century amid a broad restoration effort, partly buoyed by the success of Victor Hugo's novel "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" in 1831.
 
The Cathedral also houses the grand organ, one of the world's most famous musical instruments, as well as the Crown of Thorns, a relic of the passion of Christ.
 
IANS
 

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World's largest aircraft completes first flight in US

(Photo: Stratolaunch)
(Photo: Stratolaunch)
The world's largest aircraft by wingspan, developed by aerospace venture Stratolaunch, took to the skies for its first flight over the Mojave Desert in California in the United States on Sunday.
 
A press release from Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, said the first flight of the world's largest all-composite aircraft, the Stratolaunch, had been successfully completed.
 
With a dual fuselage design and a wingspan greater than the length of an American football field, the Stratolaunch aircraft took flight at 0658 PDT from the Mojave Air & Space Port. 
 
Achieving a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour, the plane flew for 2.5 hours over the Mojave Desert at altitudes up to 17,000 feet. As part of the initial flight, the pilots evaluated aircraft performance and handling qualities before landing successfully back at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
 
“What a fantastic first flight,” said Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch. “Today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground-launched systems. We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today’s flight crew, our partners at Northrup Grumman’s Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port.”
 
The test team conducted standard aircraft testing exercises. Initial results from Sunday’s test points include:
 
Performed a variety of flight control maneuvers to calibrate speed and test flight control systems, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips.
Conducted simulated landing approach exercises at a max altitude of 15,000 feet mean sea level.
 
The Stratolaunch aircraft is a mobile launch platform that will enable airline-style access to space that is convenient, affordable and routine. The reinforced center wing can support multiple launch vehicles, weighing up to a total of 500,000 pounds.
 
“We all know Paul would have been proud to witness today’s historic achievement,” said Jody Allen, Chair of Vulcan Inc. and Trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust. “The aircraft is a remarkable engineering achievement and we congratulate everyone involved.”
 
"Founded in 2011 by Paul G. Allen, Stratolaunch Systems Corporation believes in safeguarding Earth for future generations. We do this by enabling convenient, affordable,?and routine, airline-style access to space that empowers the world’s problem solvers – so that they can collect rich and actionable data and drive advancements in science, research, and technology from space," the release added.
 
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UAE awards Modi its highest civilian honour

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has decided to confer the country's highest civilian award "The Order of Zayed" on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for boosting bilateral relations between the two countries.
 
The announcement was made by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and also by the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi.
 
The crown prince described Modi as a "dear friend" and said he had played a pivotal role in enhancing bilateral ties. 
 
"We have historical and comprehensive strategic ties with India, reinforced by the pivotal role of my dear friend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who gave these relations a big boost. In appreciation of his efforts, the UAE President grants him the Zayed Medal," the Crown Prince said on Twitter.
 
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj expressed happiness at the announcement and said India now had best-ever relations with the Islamic world and that Modi had played a stellar role in ushering in a new era of strategic partnership with the UAE. 
 
She said in tweets that it was an honour for the people of India and described Modi as "a great son of India".
 
"I am extremely happy to welcome the announcement of Order of Zayed for a great son of India Prime Minister Narendra Modi by His Highness Mohamed Bin Zayed.
 
"This is in recognition of Prime Minister's stellar role in ushering in a new era of strategic partnership with UAE and the best ever relations with the Islamic world. 
 
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"On behalf of the people of India, I express our deep sense of gratitude to His Highness the President, His Highness the Crown Prince of UAE for this great honour. With this, you have honoured India and the people of India," she said. 
 
Modi has already been conferred Saudi Arabia's highest civilian honour - the King Abdulaziz Sash. The award, named after Abdulaziz Al Saud, the founder of the modern Saudi state, was presented to Modi during his visit to the country in 2016. 
 
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in New Delhi that the "singular honour" of conferment of "The Order of Zayed" on the Prime Minister was in recognition of the efforts of the government under his leadership to develop the strategic partnership between India and the UAE."
 
"We greatly appreciate this honour bestowed upon PM by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed and the Government of the UAE. The UAE is home to the largest number of our citizens outside India, and is our partner in diverse pillars of cooperation, including investment, energy, defence and security," Kumar said. 
 
Modi is expected to visit UAE to receive the award. 
 
Answering queries, Kumar said that India and UAE have a strategic partnership and exchange of high-level visits is an important component of such partnership. "As and when the next visit is planned, we will share details as per established norms," he said.
 
IANS
 

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Changes in UAE visa to benefit Indian expats' kin too

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced new visa guidelines as per which family members of foreign citizens, including Indians, working in the country will now be able to get an "expat visa" if the working relative fulfils an income criteria.
 
The UAE Cabinet on Sunday adopted a decision to amend provisions of the resolution on sponsoring of foreign workers to their families in the country, WAM news agency reported. 
 
According to a statement by the General Secretariat of the Cabinet, the amended provisions now indicate "income" as a requirement for sponsoring family members, as opposed to the previously listed "professions" which allowed workers to sponsor their families.
 
The amendment was in line with international developments and accordance with best practices, it said.
 
"The decision aims at enhancing family stability of foreign workers and social cohesion, as well as attracting highly skilled workers while maintaining a healthy balance between professional and personal life," the statement added.
 
The Cabinet decision, according to the statement, called on relevant government entities to conduct studies to assess and enhance the services provided to residents, including aspects of education and health, and encourage the active participation of their family member in the job market as an alternative to recruiting new workers from abroad, within the existing policies and regulations.
 
UAE Minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation Nasir Bin Thani Al Hamli said that the Cabinet amendments will undoubtedly strengthen family ties of workers, reflect positively on the labour market, boost productivity and support the national economy.
 
IANS
 

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25 killed, 400 injured as storm lashes Nepal

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At least 25 people have been killed as a massive storm hit several places in Nepal, the media reported.
 
Besides, around 400 people have also been injured in the storm that hit the Himalayan country's southern district of Bara and adjoining Parsa on Sunday evening, The Himalayan Times reported.
 
According to the National Emergency Operation Centre, the injured are currently undergoing treatment at various health care facilities.
 
According to District Police Office (DPO), Parsa, the number of casualties could see a rise as rescue efforts have gained pace at places the details of which were not taken into account while the previous details were recorded. The DPO did not divulge further details.
 
Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli expressed sadness over the loss of lives while extending heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families.
 
Security personnel have been deployed to the affected areas for rescue and relief operations.
 
According to the Prime Minister's Chief Advisor Bishnu Rimal, army personnel have already been mobilised to speed up the rescue efforts.
 
"Two battalions has been mobilised immediately there, here in Mid Air Base, Katmandu; night vision helicopters are on stand by with rescue team. Our security agencies are waiting for favourable weather conditions (sic)", Rimal responded to Province 2 Attorney General Dipendra Jha's call to deploy Nepal Army personnel for rescue ops.
 
IANS
 

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Nirav Modi's bail plea rejected by London court

Nirav Modi. Image from Nirav Modi group's Facebook page.
Nirav Modi. Image from Nirav Modi group's Facebook page.
The Westminster Magistrates' Court on Friday rejected the bail plea of fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi suspecting he could "flee" Britain and "interfere with witnesses", said sources.
 
Judge Emma Arbuthnot has granted the Metropolitan Police custody of the 48-year-old businessman till the next hearing on April 26. 
 
Arbuthnot is the same judge who ordered the extradition of former Kingfisher Airlines boss Vijay Mallya last December. 
 
The court order came after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), appearing on behalf of the Indian authorities, argued against Nirav Modi's bail. "There is a real risk that he could flee, interfere with witnesses, interfere with evidence," the prosecution said.
 
Defence barrister Clare Montgomery said, "I (Nirav Modi) have been in the UK even before the case was registered in India. How can my bail be opposed saying I might flee the UK?" 
 
Montgomery, who had earlier represented Vijay Mallya, countered to say that his client is not a "flight risk" as he has rented a flat in London in his own name and was trying to open a bank account when he was arrested.
 
Before the hearing began, the CPS had submitted a new file with additional evidence against Nirav Modi in the Westminster Magistrates' Court.
 
Nirav Modi was arrested on behalf of the Indian authorities from Holborn in London on March 19 in connection with the Rs 13,500-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case. 
 
He was sent to police custody and the next day, was produced before a judge at the Westminster Magistrates' Court, who denied him bail and deferred the hearing for Friday. 
 
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Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi are being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation after the PNB alleged that they cheated it of Rs 13,500 crore with the involvement of a few bank employees.
 
Both fled India before the details of the fraud emerged in January 2018. The ED on February 26, 2018 attached property worth Rs 147 crore of Nirav Modi and his associate companies in connection with the case.
 
On May 24 and 26, 2018, it filed charge sheets and sought non-bailable warrants against the duo.
 
The Interpol also issued a Red Corner Notice against Nirav Modi in July 2018 at the request of the ED and the CBI. 
 
An extradition request against him had been pending before the UK authorities since September last year.
 
However, the businessman's whereabouts remained a mystery as he was spotted in New York, Hong Kong and other cities at different times. 
 
His arrest came days after The Telegraph newspaper in Britain published a report earlier this month about Nirav Modi being spotted in London.
 
The daily reported that he was living in a three-bedroom flat, occupying half the floor of the landmark Centre Point tower block. 
 
The paper said that Nirav Modi was involved in a new diamond business, run from an office in Soho, just a few hundred yards from his apartment. The new business was incorporated in May 2018, it added.
 
IANS
 

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Mumbai-Singapore flight lands safely after bomb threat

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A Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight from Mumbai landed safely at Changi Airport here on Tuesday after the pilot raised a bomb threat alert.
 
Flight 423 was escorted safely back to the airport by Singapore's air force and touched down at about 8 a.m., The Straits Times quoted the police as saying.
 
The police searched the Boeing 777-300ER that carried 263 people onboard, but did not find any suspicious item.
 
All passengers, except for a woman and a child who were held back for questioning, disembarked safely and had to undergo security screening before they could leave.
 
Preliminary investigation showed that the airline had received a call after the plane left the Mumbai airport on Monday at 11.35 p.m. The caller claimed that there was a bomb on the plane.
 
An airline spokesman told The Straits Times: "Singapore Airlines confirms there was a bomb threat concerning SQ423 operating from Mumbai to Singapore... We are assisting the authorities with their investigations and regret that we are unable to provide further details."
 
IANS
 

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Mueller report finds no Russia-Trump collusion

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller who investigated Russian interference in US President Donald Trump's 2016 election has concluded that there was no collusion between him or his campaign and Moscow, according to a summary of the report released by Attorney General William Barr.
 
While the probe found that Moscow had meddled in the 2016 election, the "investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities", Barr said in the summary he said to Congress on Sunday afternoon.
 
Trump declared that it was a complete exoneration and said the probe was an "illegal take down that failed".
 
On another key matter, if Trump had tried to obstruct justice by interfering with investigations into Russian interference, Barr's summary of Mueller's report was less certain. He said that in this regard Mueller's "report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
 
He added that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein found the evidence "not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offence".
 
"While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him", Barr's summary said.
 
The summary of the report was unlikely to quell the controversy over Russia's interference and Trump campaign's role that has divided the nation.
 
The White House and Trump's supporters exulted that it was an exoneration of the president, whose legitimacy was attacked for two years, but his opponents were questioning if the wording was ambiguous.
 
"The findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the US", his spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
 
However, the Democrat head of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, asserted that there were "very concerning discrepancies" and "Mueller did not exonerate the President". He added that he would be calling Barr to testify before the Congressional panel.
 
The Democrats demanded the entire report be published and threatened to use Congressional powers to acquire the full report and supporting documents. Legally, the Special Counsel's report is submitted to the attorney general who has the power to withhold it or release only parts of it. Trump has also supported its release.
 
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Before deciding its release Barr will have to determine if there are any matters of national security that have to be blacked out. Mueller's investigation conducted away from public view interviewed more than 500 witnesses, executed 500 search warrants and issued 2,800 subpoenas (demands of appearance or production of documents) over 22 months.
 
Five important members of the Trump team, including campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, have been convicted as a result of the Mueller probe on various charges, some of lying during investigations and some like tax and financial fraud unrelated to the Russian link.
 
The Mueller investigation was definite that there was Russian interference in the election, but in an insidious and indirect manner.
 
Barr said that Mueller found two main Russian efforts to influence the election. 
 
"The first involved attempts by a Russian organisation, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the US designed to sow social discord", his summary said.
 
The other was Russian government hacking of the computers and emails of the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party presidential candidate, and disseminating the information through WikiLeaks and other sources.
 
Barr noted that Mueller brought criminal charges against several Russian citizens and entities in connection with these activities.
 
IANS
 

(Our News Desk can be contacted at desk@netindian.in)

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