The Hindu – Dozens arrested after anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka PM appeals for calm after a man is stabbed to death

Meera Srinivasan

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 14 May 2019. Sri Lanka police arrested dozens and remanded nearly 30 persons on Tuesday, in connection with the spate of anti-Muslim attacks in at least three districts over the past two days.

A 45-year-old Muslim man, who ran a timber store in Kurunegala district in the North Western Province, died of stab injuries.

According to residents of the villages in the area, at least two busloads of people, aided by “local goons”, carried out attacks on mosques, Muslim-owned shops and homes on Sunday night and Monday afternoon, in the worst outbreak of violence since the April 21 Easter bombings.

Similar attacks were reported in parts of nearby Gampaha and Puttalam districts.

“The fact that the mobs arrived in buses showed that these attacks were planned,” said Hilmy Ahmed, vice-president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella body of Muslim civil society organisations. “It was very much like the previous instances of anti-Muslim attacks,” he told The Hindu.

On Tuesday, the stench of a gutted factory in an interior road of Minuwangoda, about 40 km north east of Colombo, filled the vicinity. The pasta factory was the only Muslim-owned property on that stretch, according a middle-aged man running a small shop facing the factory.

“I was right here yesterday evening, when 300 to 400 people entered the factory and set it on fire. Six workers were injured trying to escape,” he said, requesting not to be named. The mob, he said, came from the town area after attacking several Muslim-owned stores there.

Amith Weerasinghe of Mahason Balakaya, a Sinhala-Buddhist group; and Namal Kumara, a self-declared anti-corruption activist, were arrested on Tuesday for questioning in connection with Monday’s violence, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara told The Hindu.

Inciting violence

Mr Weerasinghe was earlier accused of inciting anti-Muslim violence in Digana near Kandy in March 2018. He was arrested following the attacks and granted bail in October last.

Mr Kumara made news when he claimed he was aware of a plot to kill President Maithripala Sirisena. Police also arrested Dan Priyasad, of hard-line Sinhala nationalist group Nawa Sinhale, in connection with the attacks.

Meanwhile, a prominent legislator aligned to President Sirisena, came into focus in the wake of Monday’s mob attacks.

Dayasiri Jayasekara, general secretary of Mr Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and a former Minister, visited a police station in one of the affected villages to reportedly transfer six suspects, who were in custody for allegedly violating the curfew, to another police station and to have them released on bail.

When contacted, Mr Jayasekara, an MP from Kurunegala, said he went to his area after reports of a huge crowd agitating in front of a police station. “I went there to help transfer the suspects to another police station to avoid any violence,” he told The Hindu, accusing social media of “distorting” his visit.

Appealing for calm, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the public not to be swayed by false information.

Cabinet Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem said allowing such violence and “pre-planned attacks” was a reward to the “demented individuals” who carried out the Easter bombings. “This is exactly what they wanted,” he told The Hindu.

M A Sumanthiran, spokesman of the Tamil National Alliance and Jaffna district parliamentarian said: “We appeal to the government: Do not let that happen. Do not let yet another community in Sri Lanka feel that in order to survive in this country, it must fight for itself.”

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/one-killed-in-anti-muslim-riots-in-sri-lanka/article27123889.ece

Dawn – Nationwide curfews, social media block in Sri Lanka after anti-Muslim riots

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 13 May 2019. Sri Lanka imposed a nationwide six-hour night curfew and banned Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms on Monday after anti-Muslim riots gripped several towns in the latest fallout from the Easter bombings.

Christian groups attacked Muslim-owned shops in a sign of the ongoing religious tension in Sri Lanka since the April 21 attacks by suicide bombers on three hotels and three churches which left 258 dead.

A night curfew in several towns north of Colombo was lifted at dawn, but reimposed 10 hours later as tensions were fuelled by persistent rumours of mob violence. The curfew was later extended across the island, police said in a statement.

Police said a Catholic priest had sent out a message to parishioners about possible attacks, causing panic among some people in violence-prone areas.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged the public not to believe rumours and warned that civil unrest will only stretch the already thinly deployed security forces.

“I appeal to all citizens to remain calm and not be swayed by false information,” Wickremesinghe said on Twitter, which was not targeted in the social media blockade.

“Security forces are working tirelessly to apprehend terrorists and ensure the security of the country, but each time there is civil unrest, we increase their burden and hamper ongoing investigations.”

A state of emergency has been in place since the bombings, which the militant Islamic State (IS) group claims to have helped, and security forces have been given sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods.

Police said a mob targeted shops in the northwestern town of Chilaw on Sunday in anger at a Facebook post by a shopkeeper. Security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd, but the violence spread to nearby towns where Muslim businesses were also attacked.

A motorcycle gang attacked shops in nearby Kuliyapitiya and four members were arrested, officials said.

However, dozens of people laid siege to the police station and forced their release. Despite a night curfew, a mosque was vandalised, local residents said.

Mosque attack

“Don’t laugh more, one day u will cry,” was posted on Facebook by a Muslim shopkeeper, and local Christians took it to be a warning of an impending attack.

Mobs smashed the man’s shop and vandalised a nearby mosque prompting security forces to fire in the air to disperse the crowd. A curfew was imposed from Sunday afternoon until dawn Monday.

There have already been clashes between Christians and Muslims in Negombo, the town north of Colombo that was targeted by the suicide attackers.

The main body of Islamic clerics, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), said there was increased suspicion of Muslims after the Easter Sunday attacks.

“We call upon the members of the Muslim communities to be more patient and guard your actions and avoid unnecessary postings or hosting on social media,” the ACJU said.

Internet service providers said they have been instructed by the telecommunications regulator to block access to Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram.

The latest unrest came as Catholic churches resumed public Sunday masses for the first time since the bombings. Worshippers were searched before being allowed into churches that were guarded by armed police and troops. There were no reports of disruption to services, however.

Schools reopen

Dozens of people have been detained since the Easter Sunday attacks, and amid the heightened security, police have banned parking near schools and students are allowed in after checking for explosives.

Public schools completed their reopening from extended Easter holidays after the attacks, but attendance was extremely low, according to education authorities.

Private Catholic schools were to open on Tuesday, but many were planning to postpone the reopening until next week, parent groups said.

Muslims make up around 10 per cent of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka’s 21 million population and Christians about 7.6pc.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1482063/nationwide-curfews-social-media-block-in-sri-lanka-after-anti-muslim-riots

The Hindu – Sri Lanka Easter blasts: Suspected mastermind Zahran Hashim spent time in south India, says top military source

Investigators identified Zahran Hashim as the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath, which they said executed the highly coordinated blasts.

Meera Srinivasan & Suhasini Haidar

Colombo – Sri Lanka / New Delhi – India, 27 April 2019. Zahran Hashim, believed to have masterminded the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, spent “substantial” time in “South India,” a top Sri Lankan military source said on Friday.

Investigators identified Hashim as the leader of the National Thowheed Jamaath, which they said executed the highly coordinated blasts on Sunday. Over 250 people, including 45 children and 40 foreign nationals, were killed in the deadly explosions.

Two days later, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks and subsequently released an image of eight suspected bombers. The man seen standing at the centre is believed to be Hashim. The other jihadists had covered their faces with a scarf.

Sri Lankan investigators, however, have identified nine suicide bombers, including a woman. “We are looking into the IS angle. We also suspect that some of those radical youth were indoctrinated and trained in India, possibly Tamil Nadu,” the senior official said, on condition of anonymity.

Indian officials would not comment that Hashim travelled to India but pointed to evidence of virtual links he maintained with youth believed to be of Indian origin. More than 100 followers of Hashim’s Facebook page are being investigated, said an official, who asked not to be named.

The first hints of Hashim’s doctrinal videos, to likely radicalise youth, emerged when Indian authorities interrogated seven members of a group whose leader, officials found, was a follower of Hashim.

The men were IS sympathisers and arrested in September 2018 in Coimbatore, on suspicion that they were plotting the assassination of certain political and religious leaders in India, the official said.

‘Hashim, a Shangri-La bomber’

Sri Lankan authorities, who have so far not named any of the nine suicide bombers or suspects officially, on Friday confirmed Hashim was one of the two suicide bombers who carried out the explosions at hotel Shangri-La, on Colombo’s sea-facing Galle Road.

He led the radical Islamist group in Kattankudy, in Batticaloa district of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, and was known for espousing extremist religious ideas, often to the discomfort of many within the community.

Earlier this week, locals told The Hindu that Zahran had left the town two years ago after a fierce disagreement with the Moulavi (religious scholar) on the practice of Islam. He was absconding since then, community leaders said.

Heightened searches

Following Sunday’s brutal attacks, inarguably the biggest atrocity the island has seen in its post-civil war decade, police and the armed forces have arrested at least 75 persons for their alleged role in the bombings.

A list of 139 youth has been drawn up and security forces are desperate to eliminate any persistent threat, official sources said. Police on Thursday released photographs of a few suspects, including one wrong photograph for which they later regretted, and sought the help of the public to nab them.

President Maithripala Sirisena on Friday vowed to “meet the challenge and defeat terrorism” in the country. Investigations into war-time rights abuse allegations had weakened the country’s security apparatus and made it vulnerable to terror attacks, he said, apparently referring to military officials facing trial for alleged abduction and murder.

Speaking to local editors and Colombo-based foreign journalists, Mr. Sirisena said a major search operation, including a door-to-door check, was underway. Acknowledging a “serious lapse” in intelligence sharing, despite “a friendly country” providing a “highly descriptive warning” on April 4.

He squarely blamed the Defence Secretary and the Inspector General of Police for it. Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday, although he told Reuters “there had been no failure on his part”.

President Sirisena further said that the planned attack could have been a response to his campaign against illicit drugs. “There is a nexus between international terrorism and international drug trade,” he said.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lanka-easter-blasts-suspected-mastermind-zahran-hashim-spent-time-in-south-india-says-top-military-source/article26959549.ece

The Hindustan Times – Sri Lanka imposes emergency, says international network involved in attacks

Police said 87 bomb detonators were found at the city’s main bus station, while an explosive went off near a church where scores were killed on Sunday when bomb squad officials were trying to defuse it.

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 22 April 2019. Sri Lanka said on Monday it was invoking emergency powers in the aftermath of devastating bomb attacks on hotels and churches, blamed on militants with foreign links, in which 290 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded.

The emergency law, which gives police and the military extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders, will go into effect at midnight on Monday, the president’s office said.

Colombo, the seaside capital of the Indian Ocean island, was jittery on Monday. Police said 87 bomb detonators were found at the city’s main bus station, while an explosive went off near a church where scores were killed on Sunday when bomb squad officials were trying to defuse it.

A night curfew will go into effect at 8 pm, the government announced.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack but suspicion was focusing on Islamist militants in the Buddhist-majority country.

Investigators said seven suicide bombers took part in the attacks while a government spokesman said an international network was involved.

Police had received a tip-off of a possible attack on churches by a little-known domestic Islamist group some 10 days ago, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The intelligence report, dated April 11 and seen by Reuters, said a foreign intelligence agency had warned authorities of possible attacks on churches by the leader of the group, the National Thawheed Jama’ut. It was not immediately clear what action, if any, was taken on the tip-off.

Police said 24 people had been arrested, all of whom were Sri Lankan, but they gave no more details.

International anti-terrorism experts said even if a local group had carried out the attacks, it was likely that al Qaeda or Islamic State were involved, given the level of sophistication.

Two of the suicide bombers blew themselves up at the luxury Shangri-La Hotel on Colombo’s seafront, said Ariyananda Welianga, a senior official at the government’s forensic division. The others targeted three churches and two other hotels.

A fourth hotel and a house in a suburb of the capital Colombo were also hit, but it was not immediately clear how those attacks were carried out.

“Still the investigations are going on,” Welianga said.

Most of the attacks came during Easter services and when hotel guests were sitting down for breakfast buffets.

“Guests who had come for breakfast were lying on the floor, blood all over,” an employee at Kingsbury Hotel told Reuters.

Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said an international network was involved, but did not elaborate.

“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Senaratne said. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

The president, Maithripala Sirisena, said in a statement the government would seek foreign assistance to track the overseas links.

Sri Lanka was at war for decades with ethnic minority Tamil separatists, most of them Hindu, but violence had largely ended since the government victory in the civil war, 10 years ago.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

Foreign victims

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans although government officials said 32 foreigners were killed, including British, USA, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nationals.

Denmark’s richest man Anders Holch Povlsen and his wife lost three of their four children in the attacks, a spokesman for his fashion firm said.

A British mother and son at breakfast at the Shangri-La, British media reported, while five Indian political workers were killed at the same hotel, relatives told Indian media.

The hotel said several guests and three employees were killed.

The USA State Department said in a travel advisory “terrorist groups” were plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka and targets could include tourist spots, transport hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship and airports.

There were fears the attacks could spark 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.

Bomb found near airport [bold

Traffic was uncharacteristically thin in normally bustling Colombo after an island-wide curfew was lifted earlier Monday.

Soldiers with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Centre in the business district, a Reuters witness said.

An 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 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. Pictures showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues.

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

Questions over why the intelligence report warning was not acted upon could feed into a feud between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the president.

Sirisena fired the premier last year and installed opposition strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his stead. Weeks later, he was forced to re-instate Wickremesinghe because of pressure from the Supreme Court but their relationship is still fraught as a presidential election nears.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/sri-lanka-blames-local-militant-group-national-thowheed-jamath-for-blasts-that-killed-290/story-IKnse8fiNnfE4ngsbJ0uUM.html

Dawn – Death toll from Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka rises to 207; 450 injured

The death toll from a devastating series of eight bomb blasts that ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka on Sunday has risen to 207, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said. At least 450 people were injured in the attacks.

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 21 April 2019. A manager at the Cinnamon Grand, near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, said a suicide bomber blew himself up at the hotel’s restaurant.

“He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast,” he told AFP.

Another suicide bomber killed three police officers as they raided a house in a northern suburb of the city.

Gunasekera said the police were investigating whether suicide bombers were involved in all of the blasts.

The government said eight people had been arrested and investigators would look into whether the attackers had “overseas links.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks, the worst act of violence since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war a decade ago, as “cowardly”, and said the government was working to “contain the situation”.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009 during which bomb blasts in the capital were common.

Christian groups say they have faced increasing intimidation from some extremist Buddhist monks in recent years. And last year, there were clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims.

At a glance:

  • Four hotels ─ Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Tropical Inn ─ targeted in Colombo
  • One church each targeted in Colombo (St Anthony’s Shrine), Negombo (St Sebastian’s Church) and Batticaloa
    (Zeon Church)
  • At least 47 killed in Colombo blasts: police
  • At least 25 killed in Batticaloa blast: police
  • At least 67 killed in Negombo blast: police
  • 35 foreigners, including Dutch, US and UK citizens, dead: police
  • At least 450 injured
  • Curfew, ‘temporary’ social media ban imposed

Three churches, one each in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, and three Colombo hotels were targeted in the initial series of blasts. Another hotel and an unspecified location in Colombo were struck by two more blasts two hours later.

The death toll included worshippers and hotel guests. The injured flooded into local hospitals, where officials reported hundreds of wounded were being admitted.

Hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens are among the dead, with Britons and Japanese also injured. A Portuguese man also died, the country’s LUSA news agency reported. Four Pakistanis were among the injured, according to the Foreign Ministry.

After the eighth explosion, the government declared a curfew with immediate effect and said it would last “until further notice”.

A social media ban was also imposed across the country. Government officials said major social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, have been blocked to prevent misinformation and rumours.

The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear, but an official speaking on condition of anonymity said police suspects the initial blasts at the churches in Colombo and Batticaloa were carried out by suicide bombers.

Trail of terror

The first explosions were reported at St Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital.

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in the town of Batticalao, in the east of the country. Police immediately sealed off the attack sites. Sri Lankan security officials are investigating the attacks.

A person identified as Alex Agieleson who was near St Anthony’s at the time said that nearby buildings shook with the impact of the blast, and that he saw a number of injured people being carried away in ambulances.

An AFP photographer at the scene at St Anthony’s saw bodies lying on the floor, some draped with scarves and clothes.

Much of the church roof was blown out in the explosion, with roof tiles, glass and splintered wood littering the floor along with pools of blood.

St Sebastian’s appealed for help on its Facebook page. The explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows at the church, where people carried the wounded away from blood-stained pews, TV footage showed.

Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels in the capital. 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, several bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.

Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast. The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood. Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries. The images could not immediately be verified.

Hours after the first series of blasts, a seventh blast struck at a hotel in Colombo’s Dehiwala area and killed two people, police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera said.

“There was an explosion in a hotel in Dehiwala near the zoo,” a police official told Reuters adding that there were no further details available. An eyewitness on local TV said he saw some body parts including a severed head lying on the ground near the hotel. Zoo officials declared Dehiwala zoo closed after the blast.

Shortly after, an eighth blast hit the suburb of Orugodawatta in the north of Colombo, police said, without providing additional details on what was targeted.

Police chief warned of threat 10 days ago

According to a document accessed by AFP, the Sri Lankan police chief had warned of possible suicide attacks targeting “prominent churches” in a nationwide alert 10 days ago.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.

Sri Lanka PM calls emergency meeting

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks and called an emergency security council meeting, sources told Reuters.

“I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong,” Wickremesinghe said in a Tweet. “Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, tweeted: “Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway.”

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St Anthony’s Shrine, where he described “horrible scenes”.

“I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners”.

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added.

President Maithripala Sirisena, in an address following the attacks, said he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, writing on his verified Twitter account, said the attacks had killed “many innocent people” and appeared to be a “well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy.”

The Pakistani Foreign Office retweeted contact information for the Pakistani High Commission in Colombo for Pakistani nationals in Sri Lanka.

Embassies in Colombo warned their citizens to shelter in place, and Sri Lankan Airlines told customers to arrive at the airport four hours ahead of flights because of ramped-up security in the wake of the attacks.

Sri Lankan Christians targeted by discrimination, violence

Only a small fraction of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which represents more than 200 churches and other Christian organisations.

This year, the NCEASL recorded 26 such incidents, including one in which Buddhist monks allegedly attempted to disrupt a Sunday worship service, with the last one reported on March 25.

Out of Sri Lanka’s total population of around 22 million, 70pc are Buddhist, 12.6pc Hindu, 9.7pc Muslim, and 7.6pc Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.

In its 2018 report on Sri Lanka’s human rights, the US State Department noted that some Christian groups and churches reported they had been pressured to end worship activities after authorities classified them as “unauthorised gatherings”.

The Catholic Church in the Holy Land voiced support for Sri Lanka’s Christians and condemned the attacks. A statement issued in Jerusalem said the blasts were particularly sad as they “came while Christians celebrate Easter.”

“We pray for the souls of the victims and ask for speedy recovery of the injured, and ask God to inspire the terrorists to repent of their killing and intimidation,” the statement said.

“We also express our solidarity with Sri Lanka and all its inhabitants in their various religious and ethnic backgrounds.”

https://www.dawn.com/news/1477527/death-toll-from-easter-sunday-blasts-in-sri-lanka-rises-to-207-450-injured

The Telegraph – World asks India, Pakistan to show restraint

In India’s and Pakistan’s immediate neighbourhood, too, there were similar calls

Anita Joshua

New Delhi – India, 28 February 2019. After the diplomatic offensive and outreach by both India and Pakistan since the Pulwama terror attack, it was the turn of countries across the world on Wednesday to reach out to the two nuclear-powered neighbours with just one message: Exercise restraint.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, who was in session with his Indian and Russian counterparts at the RIC trilateral in Wuzhen when word came of Pakistan’s retaliation to India’s “pre-emptive” strike on Tuesday, said Beijing was worried about the growing tensions and urged both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint and avoid further escalation.

“As a common friend of India and Pakistan, we hope that the two sides can find out the truth through dialogue, control the situation, solve problems and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability,” he said, offering to play a constructive role.

Russia, according to the media secretary of President Vladimir Putin, is closely monitoring the situation and is concerned about the “aggravation of relations” between India and Pakistan and calls on both sides to show restraint.

In a related statement, the Russian foreign ministry also called on both sides to step up efforts to resolve problems through political and diplomatic means, offering Moscow’s help in strengthening the counter-terrorism potential of both New Delhi and Islamabad.

British Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the issue in Parliament; expressing deep concern and calling for restraint by both sides to avoid further escalation.

“We are in regular contact with both countries, urging dialogue and diplomatic solutions to ensure regional stability. We are working closely with international partners, including through the UNSC, to de-escalate tensions and are monitoring developments closely,” she said.

Expressing anxiety at the “deteriorating situation”, France urged India and Pakistan to de-escalate and said its embassies in both countries were being mobilised to help French citizens.

The US, which was busy with President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, was the only P-5 country to not react officially to Wednesday’s developments.

But secretary of state Mike Pompeo had spoken to the foreign ministers of both countries after India’s pre-emptive strikes and advised restraint while asking Pakistan to take urgent action against terrorists operating from its soil.

From India’s and Pakistan’s immediate neighbourhood too, there were similar calls, with Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Iran worried about how further escalation could affect the region.

“As the current Chair of Saarc, Nepal, while underlining the importance of peace and stability in South Asia, calls on both sides to exercise utmost restraint and not engage in actions that would threaten peace and security in the region.

It also urges them to seek solution through dialogue and peaceful means in order to ease tension and normalise the situation,” Nepal’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Iranian news agency IRNA quoted foreign ministry spokesperson Bahram Qasemi as expressing deep regret over spike in tensions and the military showdown between India and Pakistan.

He said the two countries should keep in mind the complicated conditions in the region, marked by increasing insecurity and instability and foreign intervention.

Condemning terrorism in all its manifestations, the Maldives urged both countries to exercise utmost restraint and preserve peace and stability in the region. “It is important to seek a speedy resolution to the current crisis through diplomacy and dialogue,” the Maldivian foreign ministry said in a statement.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/world-asks-india-pak-to-show-restraint/cid/1685910?ref=india_india-page

NDTV News – Sajjan Kumar to be kept away from Sikh inmates in prison: Report

Sajjan Kumar, sentenced to life for his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, was brought to the Mandoli jail after he surrendered before the Karkardooma court in Delhi on Monday.

New Delhi – India, 31 December 2018. Sikh inmates will be kept away from former Congress leader Sajjan Kumar’s ward in the Mandoli Jail complex in Delhi as a precautionary measure, sources said.

Kumar, sentenced to life for his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, was brought to the Mandoli jail after he surrendered before the Karkardooma court in Delhi on Monday.

The former Congress leader, who was brought to the jail by the police following his medical examination at a Delhi government hospital, would be lodged in prison number 14, the sources said.

They added that Kumar’s medical examination by a jail doctor was also carried out. He was brought to the jail complex in a separate prison bus with two escort vehicles, following the court’s directions.

The sources said it was yet to be decided which ward the former Congress leader will be kept in but security had been increased in jail number 14 and the personnel asked to ensure that the two-three Sikh prisoners lodged in the jail were kept away from Kumar as a precautionary measure.

Kumar, 73, surrendered before Metropolitan Magistrate Aditi Garg, who directed that he be lodged in the Mandoli jail in northeast Delhi. The Delhi High Court had set a deadline of December 31 for the former Congress leader to surrender and on December 21, declined his plea to extend the time by a month.

The high court had, on December 17, convicted Kumar and sentenced him to life imprisonment for the “remainder of his natural life”. Subsequently, Kumar resigned from the Congress party.

The case in which he was convicted relates to the killing of five Sikhs in the Raj Nagar Part-I area in the Palam Colony of southwest Delhi on November 1-2, 1984 and the burning down of a Gurdwara in Raj Nagar Part-II.

The riots broke out following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 by her two Sikh bodyguards.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/sajjan-kumar-to-be-kept-away-from-sikh-inmates-in-prison-report-1970722

BBC News – Rajapaksa: Sri Lanka’s disputed PM resigns amid crisis

Mahinda Rajapaksa has resigned as Sri Lanka’s prime minister, seven weeks after he was appointed in a surprise move that sparked a political crisis.

Mr Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s former president, signed his resignation letter in a ceremony at his house.

His son, Namal, told the BBC his father had quit to ensure national stability.

The resignation could bring to an end a nearly two-month-long power struggle that has dented confidence in Sri Lanka’s stability.

In October, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the then prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, replacing him with Mr Rajapaksa.

Mr Wickremesinghe is expected to return to office on Sunday.

His party’s spokesman Harin Fernando told the BBC: “The president has agreed to swear in Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister tomorrow at 10 am.”

He said this would end the political deadlock, remarking that the the country and its economy had suffered “huge damage” since the crisis began 50 days ago.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court said Mr Sirisena had acted illegally in November by dissolving parliament and calling snap polls with nearly two years to go until elections were due.

Throughout the crisis, Mr Wickremesinghe has always maintained he is the rightful PM.

The crisis, which has provoked brawls in parliament and sparked large protests, has been closely watched by regional power India, as well as the US, China and European Union.

Mr Rajapaksa, who dominated Sri Lankan politics for a decade until 2015, has an uneasy relationship with the West over the bloody end to the country’s civil war in 2009, when thousands of civilians were killed. Both government forces and the Tamil Tiger separatist rebels are accused of grave human rights abuses and crimes.

On Wednesday, parliament passed a vote of confidence in Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister.

His party and its allies have a simple majority in parliament, and have argued from the beginning that President Sirisena’s actions were unconstitutional.

What are the roots of the saga?

Mr Sirisena was once a party ally of Mr Rajapaksa, and served in his government.

But in 2015, he teamed up with Ranil Wickremesinghe to defeat him in an election and the pair went on to form a coalition government.

However the relationship between president and prime minister turned sour and Mr Sirisena in October turned on Mr Wickremesinghe, sacking him in favour of Mr Rajapaksa, his old ally-turned-rival-turned-ally.

He called Mr Wickremesinghe arrogant and linked him to a controversial central bank bond sale, which is alleged to have led to the loss of 11bn Sri Lankan rupees ($65m; £50m). The president also alleged that a cabinet minister was involved in a plot to kill him and that police had obstructed an investigation.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46571195

The Telegraph – Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot act as Prime Minister, says Sri Lankan court

On October 26, President Maithripala Sirisena had sacked Ranil Wickeremesinghe and replaced him with Rajapaksa

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 03 December 2018. A Sri Lankan court on Monday barred Mahinda Rajapaksa from acting as Prime Minister. This comes as a major setback to President Maithripala Sirisena who had installed his former rival in place of Ranil Wickremesinghe in a controversial decision.

The appeal court issued notice and an interim order against Rajapaksa and his government, preventing them from acting as Prime Minister, cabinet and deputy ministers, Colombo Gazette reported.

The order was issued in a quo warranto case filed by 122 MPs against Rajapaksa and his government.

Lanka has been reeling under a political crisis since October 26 when President Sirisena sacked Wickeremesinghe and replaced him with Rajapaksa.

Sirisena later dissolved Parliament, almost 20 months before its term was to end, and ordered a snap election. The Supreme Court overturned Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament and halted the preparations for snap polls.

Both Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa claim to be Prime Minister. Wickremesinghe says his dismissal is invalid because he still holds a majority in the 225-member Parliament.

The United National Front has moved three no-trust motions against Rajapaksa, who has refused to step down.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/world/mahinda-rajapaksa-cannot-act-as-prime-minister-says-sri-lankan-court/cid/1677471?ref=latest_home-template

The Hindu – Sri Lankan Parliament disrupted again, adjourned until Monday

President Sirisena says he will not ‘prorogue Parliament under any circumstances’.

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 16 November 2018. Sri Lanka’s Parliament witnessed chaos for the second day on Friday as MPs loyal to disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa occupied the seat of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and shouted slogans, forcing him to summon police inside the House and adjourning the session until Monday.

The brawl occurred a day after the Speaker announced there is no prime minister or government following a no-confidence motion against Mr. Rajapaksa.

Friday’s proceedings were to repeat the floor test, which was disrupted on Thursday.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who installed Mr. Rajapaksa as prime minister last month in a controversial move, had agreed for a floor test with the leaders of ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s coalition during crisis talks last night.

Rajapaksa’s MPs take over Speaker seat

The MPs supporting Mr. Rajapaksa took over the seat of the Speaker, delaying the proceedings, officials said. They shouted slogans against Mr. Jayasuriya.

The Speaker summoned the police inside Parliament chamber after 45 minutes of disruption. One of the rioting MPs Arundika Fernando occupied the seat of the Speaker with more MPs surrounding it.

Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, a senior parliamentarian, was injured in the melee.

The rioting United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) members demanded the arrest of two legislators of the Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP). They charged that Palitha Thewarapperuma and Ranjan Ramanayake were carrying knives during the Thursday brawl.

On Thursday, UPFA MP Dilum Amunugama was injured in clashes inside the chamber.

Police on Friday protected Mr. Jayasuriya from the rioting MPs as he called the Tamil National Alliance lawmaker MA Sumanthiran to propose the suspension of the standing orders.

Mr. Jayasuriya on the basis of a voice vote announced that the motion against Mr. Rajapaksa was defeated as physical voting could not take place due to the brawl.

MPs hurl books at police

The rioting MPs threw books at the police. Mr. Jayasuriya immediately suspended the sittings until November 19 and left the House surrounded by police.

President Sirisena said that he would not ‘prorogue Parliament under any circumstances’.

“I urge all parliamentarians to uphold principles of democracy parliamentary traditions at all times. I will not prorogue Parliament under any circumstances,” he tweeted.

Trouble erupted in Parliament on Thursday when the Speaker agreed to a request from ousted Mr. Wickremesinghe’s UNP that a vote be taken on a statement made by Mr. Rajapaksa demanding fresh polls.

Mr. Jayasuriya allowed Mr. Rajapaksa to make a statement as a lawmaker after stating that he does not recognise the claim of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leader who lost a no-confidence motion on Wednesday.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s side has disputed the no-trust motion, saying proper procedure was not followed and accused Mr. Jayasuriya of bias towards his own party.

No-confidence motion

Parliament on Wednesday passed the no-confidence motion against Mr. Rajapaksa after the Supreme Court overturned the presidential decree to dissolve the House and hold snap polls on January 5.

Amid raucous scenes, Parliament on Wednesday met for the first time since October 26, when Mr. Sirisena sacked Mr. Wickremesinghe, installed Mr. Rajapaksa in his place and suspended the House, plunging the island nation into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.

The vote of no confidence against Mr. Rajapaksa has further complicated the political crisis. It is not yet clear whether he will resign or whether Mr. Wickremesinghe, who has the support of 122 lawmakers in the 225-member House, will return to power.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lankan-parliament-disrupted-again-adjourned-until-monday-amid-political-crisis/article25517341.ece?homepage=true