Multiple explosions rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday as attacks on churches and hotels left at least 138 dead in the worst violence since a civil war ended a decade ago.
The government imposed an island-wide curfew as security forces try to maintain law and order and investigate the attacks. Those responsible for the blasts have been identified and will be taken into custody, Sri Lanka’s information minister Ruwan Wijewardene said, without providing details. Access to social media platforms including Facebook and Whatsapp has been restricted.
No one has claimed responsibility for the six coordinated explosions that took place at 8:45 a.m. local time mainly in the capital Colombo, and separate blasts later in the day. At least 400 people were injured. Foreigners were among those reported dead after explosions at luxury hotels such as the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand.
The attacks mark a return of violence to the country of 21 million people that’s still in rehabilitation following a brutal 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 with at least 100,000 killed. Ethnic and religious divisions have plagued the island nation for decades, and there was a bitter political standoff late last year between the president and the prime minister.
The blasts at churches took place during Easter Sunday mass, in a country where large-scale attacks on Catholics and Christians have been rare. All Easter masses scheduled for this evening have been canceled, the Catholic archdiocese in Colombo said, while schools that were scheduled to reopen for the new term on Monday will remain closed until Wednesday, the education ministry announced.
Catholics, split between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority, make up 6.5 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, according to the nation’s 2012 census. More than 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, 12 percent are Hindu and 10 percent are Muslim, the census shows.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said his government is taking immediate steps to contain the situation. In a televised appearance, he warned of an impact to the economy and investment flows.
“You will find a downward trend in the economy,” he said. “Tourism will get affected. There may be fund outflows.”
An emergency security council meeting had been called to review the attacks that seem to be coordinated, Harsha de Silva, minister of economic reform and public distribution, said by phone. “Rescue operations underway,” de Silva said on Twitter. “Many casualties including foreigners. Horrible scenes.”
The bombings in Sri Lanka — which will remind many of the brutal civil war era — come after a sustained period of political uncertainty following the president’s decision to fire his prime minister, said Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow with the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think-tank.
“Sri Lanka is just about recovering from a civil war and so obviously this is not a good sign,” Joshi said.
The attacks will also be a blow to the tourism industry and affect the stability of the rupee, said Adrian Perera, chief operating officer at Equicapital Investments in Colombo.
“If the security situation is not stable, foreign direct investment will also take a hit, especially to the real estate industry,” Perera said. “The government budget will be derailed. Foreigners will dump stocks and bonds.”
Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product growth in the quarter to December was the slowest in 19 quarters, while full-year expansion cooled for a third straight year in 2018.
The rupee has risen about 4.75 percent so far this year, recovering on foreign flows to bonds and remittances during the just concluded local New Year festival, after dropping to consecutive record lows last year amid the political crisis.
–With assistance from Bibhudatta Pradhan and Iain Marlow.
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Photo credit: Blood stains are seen on the wall and on a Jesus Christ statue at the St. Sebastian's Church after blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than two hundred people were killed and hundreds more injured in eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday. Associated Press