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Sri Lanka attacks: Church bomber ‘touched young girl’s head’ before deadly blast – World News



A man has recounted how a bomber touched his grandaughter’s head shortly before detonating an explosive that killed dozens at a church in Sri Lanka .

Dilip Fernando arrived at St Sebastian’s Church in Sri Lanka’s Negombo on Easter Sunday – but it was so crowded he went elsewhere for mass.

The decision probably saved his life.

Shortly after he left, a massive bomb ripped through the church, killing worshippers that observed the Christian holiday.

Dozens died there on a day of carnage across Sri Lanka that saw at least 290 people killed in eight blasts.

On Monday morning, Fernando returned to the church in the seaside town of Negombo to see the damage at the site where he and his family narrowly escaped death.

Security personnel inspect the interior of St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo

Pictures from inside the church show the scale of the damage caused inside the building


“I usually come to services here,” the 66-year-old retiree told AFP, as around three dozen security personnel stood outside the church.

“Yesterday me and my wife arrived at 7:30 am but it was so crowded there was no place for me. I didn’t want to stand so I left and went to another church.”

But seven of Fernando’s extended family including in-laws and his two granddaughters decided to stay, sitting outside because the church was so crowded.

And it was there that they saw a man they believe was the suicide bomber behind the deadly explosion.

“At the end of the mass they saw one young man go into the church in with a heavy bag,” Fernando said.

“He touched my granddaughter’s head on the way past. It was the bomber.”

Officials inspect the inside of St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of Colombo

A major investigation has been launched to find the culprits


The family wondered why he was entering the church with mass nearly over, Fernando said, adding that the man had looked to be around 30 and “very young and innocent”, according to his relatives.

“He was not excited or afraid,” he said. “He was so calm.”

Shortly after the man entered the church, there was a massive blast.

He said: “They heard it and quickly ran away, they were so afraid. They called me immediately to ask if I was inside the church, but by then I was in a different church.”

He said no one in his family had been killed or injured, but that the community had been devastated by the attack.

“I’m so lucky because normally I would go to this church. We are relieved, we were so lucky but we’re really sad for the whole village,” he said.

“There are going to be huge funerals in this village soon.”

The aftermath an explosion at the St Sebastian’s church in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Blood stains are seen on a statue of Jesus Christ at St Sebastian’s Church


But he added that Sri Lanka’s Roman Catholic community, a minority that makes up just six percent of the population, would not be intimidated.

“If the church was open this morning then I would have gone inside,” he said. “We are not afraid. We won’t let terrorists win, no way.

“Revenge is useless. It’s the responsibility of the government to control this, not us.”

He criticised the government, which has acknowledged that there was information warning of attacks before Sunday’s blasts.

“An attack like this should have been avoided,” he said.

Around the church, Negombo appeared to be waking up as normal, after the lifting of an overnight nationwide curfew at 6:00am (0030 GMT).

A steady stream of people were walking or moving on streets on bicycles and motorbikes or in tuk-tuks.

Outside the church, Fernando and other bystanders look at the damage to the church, which had been renovated just a month earlier.

“It was looking so beautiful. We were so happy,” he said.

“The priest was awarded for the job he had done. But now this has happened, it’s terrible.”

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New Zealand volcano: Search resumes for two remaining bodies




The recovery operation at Whakaari/White Island on 13 DecemberImage copyright
New Zealand Defence Force/Getty Images

Image caption

Six bodies were retrieved from the island on Friday

New Zealand police say divers have resumed searching the waters near White Island volcano in efforts to retrieve two remaining bodies.

At least one body was spotted in the water and rescuers would not return to the island on Saturday.

A day earlier, the remains of six bodies were recovered in a high-risk operation and sent to Auckland where they will be identified.

Fourteen deaths have been confirmed from Monday’s eruption.

Around 20 people remain in intensive care with severe burns in New Zealand and Australia.

In a statement, police said they would analyse all information available and assess possible next steps. “[Saturday’s] planning will allow us to return to the island to conduct further land-based searches for the remaining deceased, as the environment on and around the island allows.”

After being recovered from White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, the bodies will be examined in Auckland by experts including a pathologist, a forensic dentist and a fingerprint officer.

Police will gather information about possible victims, such as descriptions of appearance, clothing, photos, fingerprints, medical and dental records and DNA samples. These details will then be matched to the evidence gathered in the post-mortem examination.

“This is a long and complex process and we are working as quickly as possible to return loved ones to their families,” Deputy Commissioner John Tims said.

How did Friday’s operation unfold?

A “high-speed” retrieval to get the bodies was launched even though the risk of another eruption remained. Going in, authorities knew the location of six of the missing and those bodies were airlifted off the island.

A team of eight specialists from the New Zealand Defence Force flew by helicopter to the island and spent four hours retrieving the bodies. They were taken to a naval patrol boat and then brought back to the mainland.

Volcanologists had warned that if the volcano erupted while they were on the island, the team could face magma, superheated steam, ash and rocks thrown at high speed. The specialists who went to the island were wearing protective clothing and breathing apparatus.

Speaking to reporters after the bodies were retrieved, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said questions over why people were allowed to visit the active volcano “must be answered, and will be answered”.

But she said “we also need to respect the phase we’re in now, with families only just getting their loved ones back”.

How were the others saved?

Out of the 47 people on the island when the eruption happened, 24 were from Australia, nine from the US, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two from China, two from the UK, and one from Malaysia.

After the eruption, most of the visitors were taken off the island in dramatic rescue efforts. Some tourist boats already on the way to the mainland turned back to take in those stranded.

Meanwhile, commercial pilots headed back to the island – as the eruption was ongoing – to look for survivors. Many of those who made it off the island were severely injured and burnt.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media caption“Toxic gases and ash”: The BBC’s Shaimaa Khalil flies around White Island


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Supreme Court to rule on release of Trump tax records




WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear President Donald Trump’s appeal of lower court orders, now on hold, that require his banks and accountants to turn over financial records to the House and local prosecutors in New York.

The cases could yield major rulings on the power of the House to demand records for its investigations and the authority of a president to resist such demands. By granting review now, the justices made it possible for these cases to be heard during the current court term, in March, with a decision by the end of June, just as the general election campaign heats up.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court granted review of the President’s three pending cases,” Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement. “These cases raise significant constitutional issues. We look forward to presenting our written and oral arguments.”

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The court will decide whether Trump’s accounting firm must respond to a grand jury subpoena obtained by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance. It seeks nearly a decade’s worth of tax returns and other financial documents for an investigation of hush-money payments made to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, allegations the president has consistently denied.

The justices also agreed, with no noted dissents, to hear Trump’s appeal of lower court rulings involving subpoenas issued by the Democratic majority on the House Oversight Committee. It orders President Trump’s accounting firm to turn over Trump-related financial documents covering 2011 through 2018.

The committee said it acted after former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen testified that “Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”

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Trump’s lawyers, who asked the court to take up the case, contended that the House had no authority to subpoena records unless it seeks information for the purpose of writing laws. In this case, they said, the House was improperly acting as an investigative body in an action that implicates the president.

If the House succeeded, subpoenas covering the private lives of further presidents could become routine in times of divided government, they said, “given the obvious temptation to investigate the personal affairs of political rivals.”

Lawyers for the House said the subpoena is not seeking anything covered by official privilege or, in fact, anything directly from the president at all.

“There is no need for this court to make definitive pronouncements on the scope of Congress’s power in a case in which its ruling will be so limited in application and consequence,” they said in court filings.

As for Congress’s authority to seek the material in the first place, they said Trump’s decision to maintain his ties to a broad array of business ventures raises questions about the adequacy of existing laws covering ethics requirements.

Also on Friday, the court agreed to hear Trump’s appeal of lower court rulings involving subpoenas issued by the Democratic majority on two other House committees, seeking financial documents from Trump’s accounting firms and two banks.

The Financial Services Committee subpoenaed a broad range of records from two banks that have done business with the president and members of his family — Deutsche Bank and Capital One. Democrats said both banks have paid fines for deficiencies in their programs to fight money laundering, and they cited news reports indicating that “several Trump properties were purchased using anonymous shell companies and funded by Russian oligarchs.”

The Intelligence Committee also approved a subpoena seeking records from Deutsche Bank, explaining that it was investigating “potential leverage that foreign actors may have over President Trump, his family, and his businesses.”

The Trump lawyers said the subpoenas were extraordinarily broad, saying more than a decade’s worth of documents and covering members of his family who have never held public office, seeking “virtually every financial detail that the institutions might have” about their private affairs.

“These ‘dragnet’ subpoenas look nothing like a legislative inquiry,” the president’s lawyers said, and are beyond the power of Congress to issue.

In a statement issued Friday evening, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pushed back on those arguments from the Trump legal team and expressed disappointment that “the American people will now have to wait several more months for final rulings.”

“The Courts have repeatedly reaffirmed the Congress’s authority to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people, and have specifically recognized that the Committees’ subpoenas of the President’s financial records are valid and enforceable,” she said. “As the Courts have made clear, there are no special privileges for information unrelated to the President’s official duties, but squarely related to Congress’s need for legislation and oversight.”

“We are confident that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, will uphold the Constitution, the rulings of the lower courts and ensure that Congressional oversight can proceed,” Pelosi added.

Kristen Welker contributed.


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For Scotland and Northern Ireland, a Weakening of Ties




LONDON — While voters across England embraced Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, it was a different story in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where Thursday’s electoral earthquake has strained the ties that bind the United Kingdom and increased the risk of its eventual breakup.

In Scotland a constitutional crisis looms after the dominant Scottish National Party made significant gains, winning 48 of 59 seats, and said it would press its demands for a second independence referendum — something that Mr. Johnson has already rejected.

The background in Northern Ireland is more complicated. But for the first time in its history, the territory elected more nationalist members of Parliament, who support reunification with the Republican of Ireland, than unionists, who wish to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

Though the situations are quite different in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the common thread is Brexit, a project supported by English and Welsh voters but opposed by majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

“Brexit has completely transformed the debate in Northern Ireland,” said Daniel Keohane, an Irish political analyst. “Before Brexit, no one seriously thought a united Ireland would happen anytime soon. Now it’s a very real prospect based on these results.”

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, who leads the anti-Brexit Scottish National Party, said that it was “now clear beyond any doubt that an overwhelming majority of people in Scotland do want to remain in the European Union.” Then she demanded a repeat of the 2014 referendum in which Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.

This was, she added, an “assertion of the democratic right of the people of Scotland to determine our own future.”

Such claims are unlikely to move Mr. Johnson, putting him and Ms. Sturgeon on a collision course. On Friday after a phone call between the two leaders, Mr. Johnson issued a statement saying that he had made clear to Ms. Sturgeon how he “remained opposed to a second independence referendum,” adding that the result of the 2014 vote “was decisive and should be respected.”

But the reality is that the politics of England and Scotland seem to be diverging. So while Mr. Johnson’s Conservatives won a landslide overall, they lost seven of their 13 Scottish seats despite their hopes that campaigning against Scottish independence might save them.

The main British opposition party, Labour, which once dominated Scottish politics, now holds just one seat there.

Removal from the European Union against its will is likely to feed a sense of resentment in Scotland, especially if Mr. Johnson’s Brexit plan proves as economically harmful as many expect.

In Northern Ireland it was a sobering night for the party that had championed Brexit there, the hard line Democratic Unionist Party. Its leader, Nigel Dodds, lost his parliament seat in Belfast North.

The Democratic Unionist Party had propped up the minority Conservative government since 2017, and ultimately felt betrayed when Mr. Johnson struck a new Brexit deal that leaves Northern Ireland linked closely to the European Union’s customs market, effectively severing it economically from the rest of the United Kingdom and putting a new border in the Irish Sea.

But an even more striking shift in Northern Ireland’s political trajectory, analysts say, is the startling support won by the centralist Alliance Party, which gained 8.8 percentage points in Thursday’s general election, more than any other party.

Unlike the territory’s main unionist and nationalist political parties, whose policies are mainly defined by sectarianism, the Alliance Party is neutral and has come to represent progressive and moderate politics across all communities.

“The real story of the night is the Alliance Party in the middle, which is now our third-largest party,” said Newton Emerson, a political commentator in Northern Ireland, who describes himself as a “liberal unionist.” “The big change we have seen in Northern Ireland is that we now have a three-community system.”

He said the troubled governance system created by the Good Friday agreement, the 1998 pact that halted decades of sectarian strife in Northern Ireland, “now has a third leg on the stool.”

Frustrated by the political deadlock between unionists and nationalists that led to the collapse of the region’s governing assembly more than three years ago, many voters supported the Alliance Party, hoping that an electoral sting for the main parties would force them to revive the local power-sharing government.

“The political paralysis has had great consequences,” said Marie Kelly, a trainee nurse, who voted for the Alliance Party in Belfast. “Our health system is collapsing, we just don’t have the resources and deprived areas are suffering so so badly.”

Ms. Kelly, who previously voted for the Democratic Unionist Party, said she had wanted to punish it for focusing on Brexit alone and ignoring other important problems. “We need a more neutral political representation that prioritizes issues over ideologies.”

Stephen Farry, the deputy leader of the Alliance Party, who won in the Belfast constituency of North Down that the Democratic Unionists had been favored to win, said his victory was tied to the values of “moderation, rationalism and inclusion.”

The biggest disappointment in the election was felt by unionists and loyalists who vehemently oppose Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal.

“Of course, there will be some loyalists who will make a lot of noise about it. I don’t blame unionists for being upset,” Mr. Keohane said. “they have been betrayed by Boris Johnson, it’s as simple as that.”


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