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A security officer stands in front of St Anthony's shrine in Colombo
A security officer stands in front of St Anthony’s shrine in Colombo, after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Sri Lanka April 22, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

April 22, 2019

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Authorities lifted a curfew in the Sri Lanka on Monday, a day after 290 people were killed and about 500 wounded by a string of bombings that tore through churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday.

There was still no claim of responsibility for the attacks on two churches and four hotels in and around Colombo, the

capital of predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka, and a third church on the country’s northeast coast.

A government source said President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council early on Monday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would attend the meeting, the source said.

There were fears the attacks could spark a renewal of communal violence, with police reporting late on Sunday there

had been a petrol bomb attack on a mosque in the northwest and arson attacks on two shops owned by Muslims in the west.

Sri Lanka had been at war for decades with Tamil separatists but extremist violence had been on the wane since the civil war ended 10 years ago.

The South Asian nation of about 22 million people has Christian, Muslim and Hindu populations of between about eight

and 12 percent.

The island-wide curfew imposed by the government was lifted early on Monday, although there was uncharacteristically thin traffic in the normally bustling capital.

Soldiers armed with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Center in the business

district, where the four hotels were targeted on Easter Sunday, according to a Reuters witness.

Scores of people who were stranded overnight at the main airport began making their way home as restrictions were lifted.

The government also blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, making information hard to come by.

Wickremsinghe acknowledged on Sunday that the government had some prior information about possible attacks on churches involving a little-known Islamist group, but said ministers had not been told.

Sri Lankans accounted for the bulk of the 290 people killed and 500 wounded, although government officials said 32

foreigners were also killed. These included British, U.S., Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nations.

A British mother and son eating breakfast at the luxury Shangri-La hotel were among those killed, Britain’s The

Telegraph newspaper reported.

One Australian survivor, identified only as Sam, told Australia’s 3AW radio the hotel was a scene of “absolute carnage”.

He said he and a travel partner were also having breakfast at the Shangri-La when two blasts went off. He said he had seen two men wearing backpacks seconds before the blasts.

“There were people screaming and dead bodies all around,” he said. “Kids crying, kids on the ground, I don’t know if they were dead or not, just crazy.”

There were similar scenes of carnage at two churches in or near Colombo, and a third church in the northeast town of Batticaloa, where worshippers had gathered for Easter Sunday services. Pictures from the scene showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues.

Dozens were killed in one of the blasts at the Gothic-style St. Sebastian church in Katuwapitiya, north of Colombo. Police said they suspected that blast was a suicide attack.

Three police officers were also killed when security forces raided a house in Colombo several hours after the attacks.

Police reported an explosion at the house.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Michael Perry)

Source: OANN

Security personnel stand guard outside a church after a bomb blast in Negombo
Security personnel stand guard outside a church after a bomb blast in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

April 22, 2019

COLOMBO (Reuters) – The death toll from attacks on churches and luxury hotels across Sri Lanka rose significantly to 290, and about 500 people were also wounded, police said on Monday.

The death toll overnight had stood at 207. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera declined to give a breakdown of those killed and wounded at each of the three churches and four hotels hit on Sunday, attacks that marked the most significant violence since a bloody civil war ended 10 years ago.

A government source said President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council early on Monday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would attend the meeting, the source said.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Paul Tait & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a press conference standing next to the calligraphy 'Reiwa' which was chosen as the new era name at the prime minister's office in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a press conference standing next to the calligraphy ‘Reiwa’ which was chosen as the new era name at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo, Japan, April 1, 2019. Franck Robichon/Pool via Reuters

April 22, 2019

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling bloc suffered two rare losses in by-elections on Sunday in an apparent warning from voters not to get complacent ahead of a national election for parliament’s upper house later this year.

The defeats in a lower house by-election in Osaka, western Japan, and another on the southern island of Okinawa – host to the bulk of U.S. military in the country – were the first such losses since Abe returned to office in December 2012, except for one uncontested poll.

“Each individual (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party member must take the results to heart and buckle down,” Abe told reporters on Monday morning.

The defeats in the Sunday polls come after Japan’s Olympics minister, Yoshitaka Sakurada, resigned a year before the Tokyo Games for remarks that offended people affected by the massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered nuclear meltdowns in 2011. A vice transport minister also quit over a separate gaffe.

“The cabinet support rate is maintaining a certain level, but if they do not eradicate laxity and conceit, the upper house election will perforce be a difficult fight,” said an editorial in the conservative Yomiuri newspaper.

Support for Abe’s cabinet was at 47 percent in a survey by public broadcaster NHK released this month, up five points from the previous month.

In Okinawa, Tomohiro Yara, a free-lance journalist backed by several opposition parties and running on an anti-U.S. base platform, defeated a former cabinet minister.

In Osaka, Shimpei Kitagawa, backed by the LDP and its junior partner Komeito, lost to Fumitake Fujita from Nippon Ishin) (Japan Innovation Party), a conservative Osaka-based party that sometimes cooperates with the LDP nationally.

Speculation is simmering that Abe will call a snap lower house election in tandem with the upper house poll, possibly after announcing the postponement of a sales tax hike to 10 percent from eight percent scheduled for October.

Top government officials vowed on Friday to go ahead with the tax rise, barring a big economic shock.

Such a “double election” might help take advantage of weakness among the fragmented opposition parties, but could also spark the opposition to cooperate on candidates.

“Abe must be wondering which suffers more from weakness – LDP/Komeito or the opposition,” said Sophia University political science professor Koichi Nakano.

“A double election will also potentially galvanize the opposition into action … so it’s a double edged sword,”

(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Michael Perry)

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FILE PHOTO: Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako appear before well-wishers as they celebrate the emperor's 74th birthday in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Crown Princess Masako, appear before well-wishers through bulletproof glass as they celebrate Emperor Akihito’s 74th birthday at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan December 23, 2007. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

April 22, 2019

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – Crown Prince Naruhito, set to become Japan’s emperor on May 1, is known as an earnest, studious man who wooed and won his ex-diplomat wife, Crown Princess Masako, with a pledge to protect her.

Naruhito, 59, will not only be the first Japanese emperor born after World War Two and the first to be raised solely by his parents, but also the first to graduate from a university and pursue advanced studies overseas.

He will assume the throne after his father, Emperor Akihito, abdicates on April 30, the first Japanese emperor to do so in nearly 200 years.

“When I think of what is coming up, I feel very solemn,” Naruhito said at his birthday news conference in February.

SELFIES WITH BYSTANDERS

Naruhito, the eldest of three children, was cared for by his mother, Empress Michiko, instead of being raised by wet nurses and tutors. She even sent him to school with homemade lunches as part of parental efforts to make the royal family seem closer to the people.

A student of medieval European river transport, Naruhito spent two years at Oxford University, a time he has described as some of the best years of his life.

Described by some as having a “playful” side, Naruhito posed for selfies with bystanders while visiting Denmark several years ago.

FAMILY DEVOTION

Naruhito defied palace officials to marry Masako Owada, now 55, after she caught his eye at a concert, prompting a years-long courtship during which she rejected his early proposals.

In late 2003, about a decade after their wedding, she largely disappeared from public view, the start of a long struggle with what palace officials termed an “adjustment disorder” brought on by the strains of palace life and demands she bear a male heir. In recent years her public appearances have increased.

At one point, Naruhito shocked the nation with his passionate defense of his wife, saying she had “totally exhausted herself” trying to adjust and that there had been moves to “negate her career and her personality.” His blunt remarks drew a rebuke from his younger brother and sorrowful remarks from the emperor.

Unique in becoming the first Japanese emperor in modern times to not to have a son, Naruhito has been devoted to his daughter Aiko, now 17, and has advocated for men becoming more hands-on fathers – still uncommon in conservative Japan.

WORTHY CAUSES

Naruhito, who espouses environmental causes, has taken part in international conferences on clean water and in 2015 made remarks at a U.N.-linked advisory board on water and sanitation. He has implied that he could work on climate change as well.

Masako has repeatedly said she is concerned about children in difficult situations, including those who are abused or live in poverty in Japan.

“When I think to the days ahead, I don’t know how useful I can be,” she said in remarks released on her birthday in 2018. “But after being by the sides of their majesties for all these years, and looking forward to their future guidance, I will make as much effort as possible to assist the crown prince and work for the happiness of the nation.”

(Reporting and writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Malcolm Foster and Gerry Doyle)

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FILE PHOTO: Gas flares from an oil production platform are seen at the Soroush oil fields.
FILE PHOTO: Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf, south of the capital Tehran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo

April 21, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is preparing to announce on Monday that all importers of Iranian oil will have to end their imports shortly or be subject to U.S. sanctions, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

The U.S. reimposed sanctions in November on exports of Iranian oil after President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers. Washington is pressuring Iran to curtail its nuclear program and stop backing militant proxies across the Middle East.

Along with sanctions, Washington has also granted waivers to eight economies that had reduced their purchases of Iranian oil, allowing them to continue buying it without incurring sanctions for six more months. They were China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy and Greece.

But on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will announce “that, as of May 2, the State Department will no longer grant sanctions waivers to any country that is currently importing Iranian crude or condensate,” the Post’s columnist Josh Rogin said, citing two State Department officials that he did not name.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the report.

On Wednesday, Frank Fannon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources, repeated the administration’s position that “Our goal is to get to zero Iranian exports as quickly as possible.”

Other countries have been watching to see whether the United States would continue the waivers. Last Tuesday, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that Turkey expects the United States to extend a waiver granted to Ankara to continue oil purchases from Iran without violating U.S. sanctions.

Turkey did not support U.S. sanctions policy on Iran and did not think it would yield the desired result, Kalin told reporters in Washington.

Washington has a campaign of ‘maximum economic pressure’ on Iran and through sanctions, it eventually aims to halt Iranian oil exports and thereby choke Tehran’s main source of revenue.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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A man walks past an electoral poster of Spain's Socialist (PSOE) leader and current PM Sanchez outside the PSOE headquarters in Madrid
FILE PHOTO – A man walks past an electoral poster of Spain’s Socialist (PSOE) leader and current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez outside the PSOE headquarters in Madrid, Spain, April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Susana Vera

April 21, 2019

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s Socialists increased their lead in a poll published on Monday in newspaper ABC that gave them 31.5 percent of votes, but fell short of a majority ahead of a general election on April 28.

It is the third poll in two days that shows the Socialists expanding their advantage, and forecasting that a coalition of three right-wing parties – People’s Party (PP), Ciudadanos and far-right Vox – would not get enough seats to form a parliamentary majority.

Socialist Pedro Sanchez could be reelected as prime minister if he forms a coalition with the support of at least two of the array of parties – far-left Podemos and a Catalan pro-independence group – that backed him last June when he won a vote of confidence against PP’s government at the time, according to the ABC poll.

But it also showed that 33 percent of voters have not decided who they will vote for next Sunday.

The Socialists would have between 134 and 139 seats in the 350-seat parliament, gaining up to 54 new seats from the previous election in 2016.

Sanchez’s support increased by 0.2 percent from a previous poll published by the same newspaper on April 16, and by five points from a poll last January.

The second most voted party would be PP, with 20.1 percent of support, 0.8 percent less than in the previous week poll. The main conservative party would have between 81 and 86 seats in parliament, losing up to 56 from the last election.

Ciudadanos would receive 13.9 percent of votes, equivalent to 42 to 44 seats, above the 32 that they currently have.

Newcomer Vox would be the fourth party in seats (30 to 32) but, with 11.4 percent of votes, would be below anti-austerity Podemos, which would receive 12.1% of support but that would translate in a smaller amount of parliamentary seats (27).

Vox’s support fell by 0.4 percent from the April 16 poll, but it would still be the first time in almost four decades that an extreme-right party enters the Spanish parliament.

A coalition of PP, Ciudadanos and Vox would get 45.4 percent of votes, equivalent to between 153 and 162 seats, but this would also be short of the 176 seats needed to secure a parliamentary majority.

The poll was conducted by GAD3 with 10,000 interviews between April 1 and 19. The margin of error was of 1 percent.

(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Susan Thomas)

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People protest against the construction of a hydropower plant near Birkiani
Participants attack police officers during a rally held by residents of the Pankisi gorge, who protest against the planned construction of a hydropower plant, near the village of Birkiani, Georgia April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ekaterina Anchevskaya

April 21, 2019

TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgian police used tear gas and rubber bullets on Sunday to break up a protest by residents of a mountainous region against the construction of a hydropower plant, the independent Rustavi-2 TV station reported.

Around 300 residents of the Pankisi gorge gathered near the village of Birkiani to protest against the planned plant, saying it could damage the environment and force them to leave their homes. Some threw stones at the police, Rustavi-2 reported.

The TV station showed several residents with minor injuries from rubber bullets and said some police officers were also hurt.

Interior ministry officials and a spokeswoman were not immediately available to comment.

(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Flowers and a candle are left at the exact spot where 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead, in Londonderry
Flowers and a candle are left at the exact spot where 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland April 20, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

April 21, 2019

BELFAST (Reuters) – Police in Northern Ireland on Sunday released without charge two teenagers arrested in relation to the killing of a journalist during a riot in Londonderry.

Lyra McKee, 29, an award-winning journalist who was writing a book on the disappearance of young people during decades of violence in Northern Ireland, was shot dead on Thursday as she watched Irish nationalist youths attack police following a raid.

“Two males, aged 18 and 19 … have been released without charge,” the Police Service of Northern Ireland said in a statement.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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North Macedonia's presidential election
Ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia’s candidate Stevo Pendarovski talks to the media after casting his vote for the presidential elections in Skopje, North Macedonia April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

April 21, 2019

SKOPJE (Reuters) – Early results of a presidential election in North Macedonia showed pro-Western candidate Stevo Pendarovski in first place, with 45 percent of the vote, the Central Election Commission website showed on Sunday.

His main rival, opposition candidate Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova, was in second place with 41 percent of the votes, preliminary results showed, based on 57 percent of ballots counted.

Blerim Reka, candidate of the second largest Albanian party Besa came third with 11.7 percent of the votes counted.

Pendarovski and Siljanovska-Davkova will face a run-off on May 5.

(Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; editing by Louise Heavens)

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Extinction Rebellion protest in London
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg speaks during the Extinction Rebellion protest at Marble Arch in London, Britain April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

April 21, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Swedish teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg on Sunday urged hundreds of climate-change protesters in London to never give up their campaign to save the planet as police arrests over disruptions to the city’s landmarks rose above 830.

Climate group Extinction Rebellion has targeted sites such as Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge in a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience with the aim of stopping what it calls a global climate crisis.

Police said the number of arrests in connection with the protests rose to 831 on Sunday, and 40 people had been charged with offences such as obstructing a highway and obstructing the police.

Thunberg, a 16-year-old student, spoke to hundreds of activists at Marble Arch, one of a number of London landmarks that have been brought to a standstill over seven days of direct action. Police were allowing the protest to continue at the site.

“We are the ones making a difference – we the people in Extinction Rebellion and the children’s School Strike for the Climate – we are the ones making a difference,” she told cheering crowds.

“And we will never stop fighting, we will never stop fighting for this planet, for ourselves, our futures and for the futures of our children and grandchildren.”

Thunberg inspired a movement of children against global warming when she took a stand in front of Stockholm’s Parliament House last August with her “school strike for climate” sign.

Thousands of students around the world have since copied her, and the schoolgirl took her campaign to European leaders in Strasbourg on Tuesday and to the Vatican, where she met Pope Francis, on Wednesday. [nL5N21Y566] [nL5N21Z31L]

London police said they had moved protesters from roads around Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square, and they were working to re-open Waterloo Bridge.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said on Saturday that the protests had caused “miserable disruption”. She said there were now 1,500 police officers, up from 1,000 previously, working to clear the roads. [nL5N2220GH]

(Reporting by Hannah McKay, Writing by Paul Sandle; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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