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Death Toll rises in Sri Lanka Explosions

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Reuters

Several Americans were among the victims as the death toll climbed to 290 in a series of blasts that slammed Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the State Department said.

  • Death toll rises to almost 300; more than 500 hurt in blasts
  • At least 7 suspects have been arrested in connection to bombings
  • Officials say 9 blasts targeted churches, luxury hotels

“While many details of the attacks are still emerging, we can confirm that several U.S. citizens were among those killed,” said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in a statement, who condemned the attacks, calling them “vile.”

A Dutch national and British citizens were also caught in the bombings, which left more than 500 wounded.

The nine blasts targeted churches and luxury hotels in and just outside of Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo.

Muslim and Catholic leaders both condemned the bombings that Sri Lankan authorities called a terrorist attack by religious extremists. However, no further details of who is responsible for the attacks have been released.

Officials say seven suspects have been arrested, and two of the blasts are thought to have been carried out by suicide bombers. 

Meanwhile, authorities imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. 

The spokesman, Brig. Atapattu, says a seventh blast occurred at a guesthouse in Dehiwala, killing at least two people. Atapattu says an eighth blast occurred in Dematagoda on the outskirts of Colombo. 

According to a police spokesman, three police officers were killed during a house raid in Dematagoda, Colombo, CNN reported. 

St. Anthony’s Shrine and the three hotels where Sunday’s blasts took place are in Colombo, the capital, and are frequented by foreign tourists. A National Hospital spokesman, Dr. Samindi Samarakoon, told The Associated Press that they received 47 dead there, including nine foreigners, and were treating more than 200 wounded.

Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels.

The Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted in the blast, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space.

A police magistrate was at the hotel to inspect the bodies recovered from the restaurant. From outside the police cordon, three bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.

Alex Agieleson, who was near the shrine, said buildings shook with the blast, and that a number of injured people were carried away in ambulances.

Other blasts were reported at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa. St. Sebastian’s appealed for help on its Facebook page.

The explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows at St. Sebastian’s, where people carried the wounded away from blood-stained pews, TV footage showed.

Sri Lankan security officials said they were investigating. Police immediately sealed off the areas.

The magnitude of the bloodshed recalled Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, when separatist Tamil Tigers and other rebel groups targeted the Central Bank, a shopping mall, a Buddhist temple and hotels popular with tourists.

Sri Lanka has long faced a bitter ethnic divide between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, fueling the civil war as Tamil militants tried to carve out their own homeland.

But in the years since the war ended in 2009, a religious divide has grown, with the rise of Buddhist nationalist groups that stoke anger against the minority Muslims, saying they are stealing from Buddhist temples or desecrating them, or forcing people to convert to Islam. Muslims also own many of Sri Lanka’s small shops, and many Muslims suspect small-town jealousy has led to some attacks.

Sinhalese are overwhelmingly Buddhists, while Tamils are mostly Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

Security expert Dave Benson, who served as regional security officer and chief security officer to the U.S embassy in Colombo in the 90’s, told Spectrum News it was difficult for him to see a place where he has lived and worked targeted.

“It’s heartbreaking on two levels: Personally, my family and I grew to really love the island and the Sri Lankan people, but violence, they are not immune to violence. Terrorism has been alive and well there for decades although not the type that we saw today. So, to see some very common places we’ve been to and attended blasted like that was very difficult to see,” he shared.

Benson also shared his thoughts why soft targets like hotels and churches were targeted in the coordinated attack.

“It’s way too early to determine if it’s in retaliation for what happened in other places around the world like in New Zealand. But clearly it’s very unusual in Sri Lanka to target houses of worship for this type of terrorist activity, so that’s particularly troubling but we’re seeing a real spike in vulnerability for houses of worship worldwide,” Benson described.

Since the attack, the Sri Lankan government has cut off all social media inside their country.

Benson says he doubts this attack was homegrown and hopes the country reaches out to the FBI to help investigate where the planning for this attack originated from.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe convened Sri Lanka’s top military officials at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council following the blasts. Wickremesinghe tweeted that “the government is taking immediate steps to contain the situation.”

The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on Sri Lanka’s government to launch a “very impartial strong inquiry” and to punish those found responsible “mercilessly because only animals can behave like that.”

There was an outpouring of condemnation from around the world following the attacks.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the blasts “an assault on all of humanity,” while Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced them as “cruel and cynical.”

British Prime Minister Teresa May said on Twitter, “We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to (practice) their faith in fear.”

Foreign Minster of Iran Javad Zariff tweeted his condolences.

President Donald Trump offered his own words of comfort, but mistakenly stated that 138 million died. He then sent a corrected tweet.

It has been a devastating week for Christians. Just last week, the beloved Notre Dame Cathedral suffered a massive fire that destroyed parts of the 12th-century landmark.

Sri Lankan security forces in 2009 defeated Tamil Tiger rebels who had fought to create an independent homeland for the country’s ethnic minority Tamils. The U.N. initially estimated the death toll from 26 years of fighting to be about 100,000 but a U.N. experts’ panel later said some 45,000 ethnic Tamils may have been killed in the last months of the fighting alone.

Government troops and the Tamil Tigers were both accused of grave human rights violations, which prompted local and international calls for investigations.

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Solar powered re-design of Notre Dame spire could be on the horizon

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Vincent Callebaut Architectures

After a devastating fire gutted parts of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the French government announced an international competition to redesign the Notre Dame spire. One of the designs gaining public interest is a glass roof and spire that can harness solar energy. 

Vincent Callebaut Architectures

If selected, the design by Vincent Callebaut Architecture will install a roof and spire made up of diamond glass panels supported by steel frames. Each of the panels would store solar power in hydrogen fuel cells, which are projected to provide electricity for the cathedral and some buildings in its vicinity. 

The green design also incorporates food sustainability by having a vegetable garden on its rooftop. The produce from this urban farm would feed Paris’ homeless population. 

Vincent Callebaut Architectures

Aside from Vincent Callebaut Architecture, other firms have submitted modern yet elegant designs that complement the French Gothic design of the cathedral. 

The designs have now been submitted to the French Government, who announced an international competition to re-design the spire of the Cathedral.

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Filmmakers protest anti-abortion laws at Cannes Film festival

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Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

Cannes Film festival has kicked off with an interesting start! On Saturday, moments before the premiere of a controversial Argentine documentary, centering abortion rights, dozens of women used the red carpet as a meeting place to protest against the issue.

The group of women reportedly included filmmakers who wore green ahead of the premiere of Argentine director Juan Solanas’ “Let It Be Law.”

Argentina’s Senate rejected a bill to legalize abortion last year. A modified version of the bill will be presented to Congress on May 28, per AP.

On Tuesday, the Alabama Senate passed a bill that would outlaw almost all abortions in the state, including those involving pregnancies from rape or incest.

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Elizabeth Warren unveils plan to protect abortion rights

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

US Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has called for overhauling federal law to ensure women continue to have access to abortion amid efforts in states like Alabama and Ohio to enact bans.

The issue of abortion has been thrust into the national dialogue after a series of states controlled by Republicans began passing legislation to enact hardline bans. Alabama signed into law on Wednesday the most drastic rollback yet.

“This is a dark moment,” Warren said.

“People are scared and angry. And they are right to be. But this isn’t a moment to back down – it’s time to fight back.”

Warren is one of more than 20 Democrats vying for her party’s nomination to challenge President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.

Warren has distinguished herself in the field as the candidate with the most prolific series of policy proposals on a myriad of topics.

Warren said Congress should enact laws that reinforce the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalised abortion. A new law should go further to prohibit states from “interfering in the ability of a patient to access medical care, including abortion services, from a provider that offers them.”

Warren also wants Congress to enact laws that invalidate state rules that have placed near-impossible regulations on abortion clinics.

She would also prohibit states from limiting access to the medications that are used to perform abortions.

Warren said Congress should require all health care insurance cover abortions. Republicans have pushed for the opposite, imposing rules that prohibited government-backed insurance from covering abortion services and trying to limit the ability of private insurers to do so.

Warren added Congress should go beyond abortion and also ensure access to birth control, comprehensive sex education and care for pregnant women.

“We must build a future that protects the right of all women to have children, the right of all women to not have children, and the right to bring children up in a safe and healthy environment,” Warren said.

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