Panicked at first, Sri Lankans anxious over what's to come

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Sri Lankan Special Task Force (STF) personnel in gas masks are pictured outside a house during a raid -- after a suicide blast had killed police searching the property -- in the Orugodawatta area of the capital Colombo on April 21, 2019, following a series of blasts in churches and hotels. (AFP)
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Sri Lankan military officials stand guard in front of the St. Anthony's Shrine, Kochchikade church after an explosion in Colombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. (REUTERS)
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Sri Lankan security personnel walk past debris next to a dead body slumped over a bench following an explosion in St Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, on April 21, 2019. (AFP)
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Sri Lankan officials inspect the site of a bomb blast inside a church in Negombo, Sri Lanka April 21, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 April 2019
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Panicked at first, Sri Lankans anxious over what's to come

  • Over the course of the day, eight bombs exploded at churches and luxury hotels, killing more than 200 people
  • Many Sri Lankans remember well the terror of the 26-year war

COLOMBO: Bhanuka Harischandra was running a little late for his meeting Sunday.
As a car carrying him pulled into the back entrance of the luxury Shangri-La Hotel in Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo, he realized something was wrong.
People were telling him not to come in, it wasn’t safe. Still, the car pulled around to the front of the hotel and Harischandra saw the aftermath of a bombing. People were being evacuated, others were being dragged. Blood and ambulances were everywhere.
“It was panic mode,” Harischandra, a 24-year-old founder of a tech marketing company, said by telephone later in the day. “I didn’t process it for a while.”
He decided to go to the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, where he thought it would be safe. But just after he was dropped at the luxury hotel and about to enter the building, he heard another bomb go off.
Now he was being evacuated. Soot and ash fell on his white sweat shirt.
His car had left, so he hailed a motorized rickshaw and went to meet friends at a coffee shop. They contacted other friends, trying to make sure everyone they knew was safe.
It was too soon to think about what it might mean.
Over the course of the day, eight bombs exploded at churches and luxury hotels, killing more than 200 people. The Easter Sunday violence was the deadliest the South Asian island country has seen since a bloody civil war ended a decade ago.
Many Sri Lankans remember well the terror of the 26-year war. But not Harischandra, who was just a teenager when it officially ended. Toward the end, the conflict was not in Colombo. Growing up, he was mostly aware of his parents’ anxiety about safety, not of actual fighting.
Now their anxiety is back.
“For them, it’s a bit of a different situation,” he said. “They’re afraid this might start racial violence.”
On Sunday night, he was with his family, observing a curfew. He said there was “a lot of tension” in the air, but he was also hoping that the worst might be over: It had been a few hours since the last blast.
Harischandra was heartened by the fact that his social media feed was flooded with photos of the lines of people waiting to give blood. Lines so long “you can’t see the end.”


Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

Updated 26 June 2019
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Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

  • But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues
  • The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reduce heightened trade tension with India on Wednesday, promising a renewed focus on negotiating improved trade and investment ties between the two nations.
But Pompeo, on a visit to India, gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues ranging from access to Indian markets for leading American companies to New Delhi’s demands for foreign firms to store Indian data in the country, and exports of steel and aluminum to the United States.
The two nations are “friends who can help each other all around the world,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar after they met.
The current differences were expressed “in the spirit of friendship,” he added.
The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance.
In particular, the sudden introduction of new e-commerce rules for foreign investors in February angered the Americans because it showed New Delhi was prepared to move the goalposts to hurt two of the largest US companies, discount retailer Walmart, and Amazon.com Inc.
Walmart last year invested $16 billion to buy control of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart.
Just days before Pompeo’s visit, India slapped higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products following Washington’s withdrawal of key trade privileges for New Delhi.
Jaishankar, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, played down the spat on Wednesday.
“If you trade with someone and they are your biggest trading partner, it is impossible you don’t have trade issues,” he said.
India’s ties with Russia and Iran, both now subject to US sanctions, are also a sore point.
US pressure has led India to stop buying oil from Iran, a top energy supplier. The United States has also stepped up pressure on India not to proceed with its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
The missile deal and Iranian oil were both discussed during their meeting, Jaishankar and Pompeo said, but mentioned no resolution of either at the news conference.
Earlier, Pompeo met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks at his official residence in the capital, New Delhi, and they exchanged handshakes in images broadcast on television.
“The Prime Minister expressed his strong commitment to achieve the full potential of bilateral relations in trade and economy, energy, defense, counterterrorism and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Pompeo is expected to round off the trip with a policy speech hosted by the US embassy, before departing on Thursday for a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Japan.