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.”


China says Maldives is not ‘mired in a Chinese debt trap’

Updated 17 min 58 sec ago

China says Maldives is not ‘mired in a Chinese debt trap’

  • The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party fears the debts to China could run as high as $3 billion
  • The Indian Ocean island chain has been caught in a battle for influence between India and China

BEIJING: The Maldives are not “mired in a Chinese debt trap,” the Chinese government’s top diplomat told the visiting Maldivian foreign minister, amid fears in the Indian Ocean country of debts as high as $3 billion owing to Beijing.

The Indian Ocean island chain has been caught in a battle for influence between India and China, which invested millions of dollars during the rule of the pro-China former leader Abdulla Yameen as part of China’s Belt and Road plan, designed to improve its global trade reach.

The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party, which won a landslide in the archipelago’s parliamentary election in April, fears the debts to China could run as high as $3 billion and risk sinking the economy.

Meeting Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid in Beijing, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said China’s cooperation with the Maldives would not be affected by the change of government, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement late on Friday.

“China’s cooperation with the Maldives aims to promote the well-being of the Maldivian people, without political intentions and without seeking geopolitical interests,” the ministry cited Wang as saying.

China provides what help it can to the Maldives without attaching political preconditions, and does not interfere in the its internal affairs, Wang added.

“It is totally without basis to say that ‘the Maldives is mired in a Chinese debt trap’,” he said. The Chinese statement quoted Shahid as saying no country in the world had been as generous to helping the Maldives, pointing to the building of infrastructure and “provision of a large amount of aid and loans.”

“In this regard, there is absolutely no so-called ‘debt trap’. To say that is complete nonsense.” China has been stung by criticism, mostly from Western countries, that it loads up poor, developing nations with unsustainable debt they have no hope of paying back, and that it is seeking to use this to leverage political influence.

China says its loans are much welcomed and much needed, and points out that it provides them with no political pre-conditions and gives funds to places that Western donors ignore.