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Ex-French president Sarkozy bound for trial

The trial of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy now appears inevitable after a top court rejected his appeal to avoid facing charges of illicit financing for his failed 2012 re-election bid.

According to France24, prosecutors claim Sarkozy spent nearly 43 million euros ($51 million) on his lavish re-election bid — almost double the legal limit of 22.5 million euros — using fake invoices, and demanded he answer the charges in court.

Sarkozy has denounced the charge, saying he was unaware of the fraud by executives at the public relations firm Bygmalion, who are also among a total of 13 people likely to face trial.

Sarkozy’s lawyers appealed to the Constitutional Council, which rules on the admissibility of laws and legal rulings, arguing that he had already paid a financial penalty for the overspending.

But that ruling concerned just 364,000 euros of overspending in the campaign, and came before revelations of the “Bygmalion affair” and fake billings.

Bygmalion executives and Jerome Lavrilleux, the deputy manager of Sarkozy’s 2012 campaign, have acknowledged the existence of fraud and false accounting.

On Friday, the Constitutional Council ruled that a criminal trial was justified on the grounds that it concerned “the potential breach of probity by candidates or elected officials.”

“It’s a big disappointment,” one of Sarkozy’s lawyers, Emmanuel Piwnica, told AFP.

Sarkozy retired from political life after failing to secure the nomination from his rightwing Republicans party for the 2017 presidential election, won by centrist Emmanuel Macron.

He would be the second former French head of state to face trial since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

In 2011, former president Jacques Chirac was given a two-year suspended sentence for embezzlement and misuse of public funds during his time as mayor of Paris.

Couple jailed for life for killing 15-day-old daughter

A young Georgia couple accused of murdering their infant daughter was found guilty on all counts Tuesday, just about an hour after the jury began deliberations.

Authorities accused Courtney Marie Bell and Christopher McNabb of smoking meth before they murdered their 15-day-old daughter Caliyah in 2017, hiding her body in nearby woods and reporting her missing.

During closing arguments, defense attorney Anthony Carter, who represents McNabb said, “Probably the worst thing that could happen to Chris is that he loses his child and then goes to prison for killing his child when he didn’t do it.”

Defense attorneys told the jury that they may not like the tattoos covering McNabb’s face, the fact that McNabb beat Bell, or the fact that the couple used drugs, but that doesn’t make them guilty of murder.

Defense attorney Bryan Frost, who represents Bell said, “Nothing my client did caused that death, all of you know what caused that child’s death. That’s nothing my client did or could’ve prevented.”

The defense argued someone came into the couple’s mobile home on the morning of Oct. 7, 2017, while they slept and took the girl and the bag belonging to McNabb that the child’s body was found in.

But prosecutors painted a different picture.

District Attorney Layla Zon said, “All this fake crying and fake tears he did during the interviews about how much he loved his children and that he did in the courtroom are a joke.”

Zon told jurors all of the evidence pointed to McNabb as the killer. The prosecutor added while the state doesn’t believe Bell physically murdered her child, they believe her negligence contributed to the child’s death.

Zon argued McNabb was manipulative and didn’t love Bell or Caliyah.

He said, “That child didn’t do anything but need love, and her daddy killed her.”

The jury began its deliberations shortly after 3 p.m. and returned its verdict just after 4 p.m.

Judge John M. Ott immediately went to the sentencing phases.

Prior to his sentencing, McNabb continued to state that he is innocent and said that just because he abused Bell doesn’t mean he abused his kids and that he never hurt his children or abused Bell in front of them.

He stated he didn’t understand how the jury found him guilty of putting his hands on a 15-day-old child, but he didn’t do it.

Ott then asked McNabb what he thought the sentence should be, and McNabb said if they ever found who committed the murder, that he ought to be “thrown under the jail.”

According to Fox News, McNabb was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 10 years to be served consecutively.

Prior to her sentencing, Bell cried that she didn’t do it and said she tried to be a good mother.

Ott replied that her version of what a good mother is was so far from the norm of what a good mother actually is that there is no excuse for it.

Bell was sentenced to 30 years, with the first 15 to be served in confinemen

Two Saudi oil tankers ‘sabotaged’ in UAE waters

Two Saudi oil tankers were damaged in a “sabotage attack” off the United Arab Emirates coast, the official Saudi Press Agency reported on Monday, quoting the Saudi energy minister.

“Two Saudi oil tankers were subjected to a sabotage attack in the exclusive economic zone of the United Arab Emirates, off the coast of the Emirate of Fujairah, while on their way to cross into the Arabian Gulf,” SPA cited Khalid al-Falih as saying.

The UAE said on Sunday that four commercial vessels of various nationalities had been targeted by acts of sabotage off Fujairah.

The incident comes amid rising tensions between Iran and the United States which has strengthened its military presence in the region, including deploying a number of strategic B-52 bombers in response to alleged threats from Tehran.

Iran has called UAE ships attack ‘worrying’ and called for probe.

It also comes as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is headed to Brussels to discuss Iran with French, British and German officials.

Falih said the sabotage did not result in any casualties or an oil spill but “it caused significant damage to the structures of the two vessels.”

One of the two tankers was on its way to be loaded with crude oil from Saudi Ras Tanura oil terminal in the Gulf for customers in the United States, the minister said.

UAE did not name who was responsible for the Sunday morning attacks on the vessels but warned that “carrying out acts of sabotage on commercial and civilian vessels and threatening the safety and lives of those on board is a serious development”.

No one was hurt and Abu Dhabi called on world powers to help keep maritime traffic safe.

Fujairah port is the only terminal in the UAE located on the Arabian Sea coast, bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, through which most Gulf oil exports pass, and which Iran has repeatedly threatened to close in case of a military confrontation with the United States.

The small emirate has an oil terminal and a pipeline that delivers crude oil from Abu Dhabi which sits on the majority of UAE oil reserves.

The Pentagon said Friday that it was deploying an amphibious assault ship and a Patriot missile battery to the Middle East to bolster an aircraft carrier force sent to counter alleged threats from Iran.

The increasing tensions come as Tehran said Wednesday it had stopped respecting limits on its nuclear activities agreed under a 2015 deal with major powers.

Iran said it was responding to the sweeping unilateral sanctions that Washington has re-imposed since it quit the agreement one year ago, which have dealt a severe blow to the Iranian economy.

Breaking: Terrorists seize Pakistan’s five-star hotel

A five-star hotel in Pakistan’s Balochistan province is under siege by at least four armed terrorists who forced their way in on Saturday.

The Pearl Continental Hotel, situated in the port city of Gwadar was identified as the target of attack, in a report by Pakistan’s news agency.

There are at least three to four terrorists inside with weapons, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported, quoting a police officer.

There was no immediate reports of casualties.

“At around 4:50 pm (local time) we got reports that there are three to four armed men in PC Hotel,” Station House Officer (SHO) Aslam Bangulzai told Dawn.

Gwadar, in the southern edge of the Pakistan’s resource-rich province of Balochistan, is a strategically important city for the country and the development of the city’s deepwater port was funded by China.

BREAKING: Prince Harry, Meghan name son Archie

 

Britain’s Prince Harry and wife Meghan on Wednesday announced their new son will be called Archie, ending months of intense speculation.

“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are pleased to announce they have named their first born child: Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor,” the couple announced on their Instagram account.

Earlier, the  couple had given the world the first glimpse of their “dream” newborn boy on Wednesday.

Harry, 34, and 37-year-old Meghan emerged in front of the cameras inside Windsor Castle to show off their son born on Monday, ahead of introducing him to great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth II.

“He’s just been a dream,” said a smiling Meghan, in her first public comments since giving birth to the seven-pound, three-ounce (3.26-kilogram) baby, who stayed firmly asleep during his public unveiling.

“He has the sweetest temperament. He’s really calm,” added the Duchess of Sussex, as Prince Harry cradled the newborn, wrapped in a white blanket, by her side.

Royal watchers have been desperate for a glimpse of the new baby, who is seventh in the line to the British throne, ever since the couple announced his birth to their 6.5 million followers on Instagram with the message “It’s a BOY!”

But they disappointed those keen to know what they will call him, with neither new parent mentioning a name on Wednesday.

Instead, Harry focused his comments on life as a proud dad.

“Parenting is amazing,” he said, the day after brother Prince William — two years his senior and with three children of his own — had jokingly welcomed him to the “sleep deprivation society that is parenting”.

“We’re just so thrilled to have our own little bundle of joy.”

Meghan added: “It’s been a special couple of days.”

The couple revealed Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, had got a sneak preview in a chance encounter in the corridors of Windsor Castle.

“We just bumped into the Duke as we were walking by, which was so nice,” said Meghan.

“It’ll be a nice moment to introduce the baby to more family.”

Prince Charles, on a visit to Germany on Tuesday, said he was “obviously delighted” and “impatient” to see his fourth grandchild.

Royal Baby: World congratulates Harry and Meghan

Congratulations have poured in from around the world following the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s son.

The newborn was delivered at 05:26 BST on Monday, with Prince Harry saying the baby boy was “absolutely to-die-for”.

Kensington Palace said the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were “delighted” and “looking forward” to meeting him.

Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, was said to be “overjoyed”, while former US First Lady Michelle Obama said she and Barack were “thrilled”.

The baby, who has not been named yet, is seventh in line to the throne, behind the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and his children – Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis – and Prince Harry.

Speaking after the birth, Harry said he planned to make an announcement in two days’ time “so everyone can see the baby”.

He said Meghan and the baby were doing “incredibly well”, adding that they were still thinking about names for the infant.

Arthur – a traditional royal name that is among the middle names of the baby’s grandfather, the Prince of Wales, and his uncle the Duke of Cambridge – is the favourite with many of the bookies, while Alexander and James are also popular.

Buckingham Palace said the baby weighed 7lbs 3oz (3.2kg), and that the duke was present for the birth.

In a statement the Palace said that the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were all “delighted” with the news.

It added that Meghan’s mother was “overjoyed at the arrival of her first grandchild” and was with her daughter at Frogmore Cottage – the Sussexes’ home on the Windsor Estate.

Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were among the politicians to offer their congratulations to the royal couple on Twitter.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who married the couple in May last year, said: “May God bless the new family with love, health and happiness.”

Congratulations also came from celebrities and famous figures in the United States, where Meghan was born.

Patrick J Adams, who starred alongside Meghan in the US legal drama Suits, wrote on Twitter: “Just heard that the world just got heavier by 7 pounds and 3 ounces. Much love to him and his incredible parents.”

The baby is a dual citizen, having automatically acquired US citizenship, via Meghan, at birth.

Speaking to the Sun from his home in Mexico, Meghan’s father, Thomas Markle, said he was “proud” his grandson was born into the British royal family and he was “sure that he would grow up to serve the crown and the people of Britain with grace, dignity, and honour.”

Meanwhile New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a donation will be made to a group which prepares baby boxes for families in need, and 10 native trees will be planted in New Zealand in honour of the royal baby.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also sent his “huge congratulations” to the couple.

UAE to jail men for catcalling, staring, winking at women

Any gesture that makes a woman feel violated and uncomfortable – from catcalls to long stares and dropping phone numbers – can get one jailed and fined in the UAE, Dubai Police have said.

According to Khaleej Times, the Dubai Police restated the law as they announced the arrest of 19 people ‘harassing and eve-teasing’ women on beaches and roads.

Eleven were caught in Jumeirah, five in Al Mamzar, two on Al Khawaneej roads and one on Commercial Centre Street, the newspaper reported.

Eve-teasing, a common euphemism, is an act where women face sexual aggression ranging from sexually suggestive remarks, catcalls and, sometimes, outright groping.

In the UAE, such a harassment also covers staring at women, winking at them, blowing kisses and commenting on her body. Taking photos of women without their consent is also a crime.

Brigadier Jamal Salem Al Jallaf, director of the General Department of Criminal Investigation, said all women have the right to feel safe, secure and protected. And such crimes of harassment are “alien to the culture and traditions of the UAE”, he said.

According to Article 359 of the UAE’s penal code, a person shall be sentenced to detention for a maximum period of one year or to a fine not exceeding Dh10,000 – or both – if he molests a woman through words or acts in a public or a frequented place.

Ahmad Al Sayyed, senior associate of the London-based law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, said such an offence – although considered a misdemeanour – can also get a convicted expatriate deported.

“Deportation, in this case, is mandatory because the charge falls under crimes against honour, Chapter 5 of Article 121, which mandates the deportation of non-UAE nationals,” Al Sayyed said.

He also urged all women to report any incident that made her feel harassed and violated.

Beaches are some of the most common places where harassments take place. In fact, a total of 1,725 people were arrested for committing various offences on Dubai beaches in 2018 – 289 of which involved people taking photos of women without their consent; 743 were found disturbing beachgoers; and 256 were nabbed for swimming in their underwear.

Officers in plain clothes and patrols are deployed across the emirate, especially on public beaches like Jumeirah Open Beach, Umm Suqeim Beach, JBR and Al Mamzar Beach Park. Security cameras are also installed in certain areas.

“Our aim is to make beachgoers feel safe and protected,” he said.

Thailand: King Maha marries bodyguard ahead of coronation

Thailand has a new queen just in time for the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in elaborate Buddhist and Brahmin ceremonies on Saturday in Bangkok.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his consort, Gen. Suthida Vajiralongkorn named Queen Suthida, attend their wedding ceremony in Bangkok.

The 66-year-old king unexpectedly married the deputy commander of his personal bodyguard unit on Wednesday in a surprise ceremony, giving her the title Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhaya.

Suthida, 40, is expected to participate in some of the coronation events.
Here are some facts about the new queen from the palace’s household bureau, past royal decrees and media.

She was born June 3, 1978, as Suthida Tidjai.

She graduated from Assumption University, a private university in Bangkok, with a bachelor’s degree in communication arts in 2000, according to the Thai Rath newspaper.

She worked as a flight attendant at Thai Airways before joining the protection unit of then-Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

Criticising or insulting her is a crime under Thailand’s lese majeste laws, which carry punishment of up to 15 years in prison.

The king, queen, heir to the throne and regent are covered under the law.
She already held the rank of general in the Royal Thai Army before her marriage, having been promoted to the position in December 2016 by King Vajiralongkorn by royal decree.

That was shortly after he took the throne following the death of his father, King Bhumibo Adulyadej.

Before the wedding, she was deputy commander of the King’s Own Bodyguard Regiment.

The king himself is commander of the unit, and he first designated her to the special officer unit of Crown Prince’s Bodyguard Regiment in 2013.

She made her debut on Royal News, a nightly segment about the king and his family aired on all Thai television channels, hours after her wedding.

The wedding came as a surprise to many Thais because the palace had never previously acknowledged any personal relationship between her and King Vajiralongkorn, who has previously been married and divorced three times.

She has been awarded royal honours in 20 royal decrees, the first in 2012 when King Bhumibol awarded her the Order of the White Elephant for her “honesty, loyalty and responsibility, dedication and sacrifice’’ in service to then Prince Vajiralongkorn.

The royal decree named her as Lt. Col. Suthida Vajiralongkorn.

During the upcoming coronation, the king is likely to bestow his new bride with new royal titles.
It is a tradition for a new monarch to grant new titles to family members. (Reuters/NAN)

Iran: Rouhani signs bills branding U.S. troops in middle East as terrorists

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday signed a bill into law declaring all U.S. forces in the Middle East terrorists and calling the U.S. government a sponsor of terrorism.

The bill was passed by parliament recently in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s decision this month to designate Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards a foreign terrorist organisation.

Earlier in April, U.S. branded Iran’s Elite military force a terrorist organisation, marking the first time Washington has formally labeled another country’s military a terrorist group.

It was not clear what the impact of the new law might be on U.S. forces or their operations.

“Rouhani instructed the ministry of intelligence, ministry of foreign affairs, the armed forces, and Iran’s supreme national Security Council to implement the law,’’ state media reported.

The law specifically labels as a terrorist organization the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The U.S. has already blacklisted dozens of entities and people for affiliations with the Guards, however until Trump’s decision not the organisation as a whole.

Comprising an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) also command the Basij, a religious volunteer paramilitary force, and control Iran’s ballistic missile programmes.

The Guards’ overseas Quds forces have fought Iran’s proxy wars in the region.

The long-tense relations between Tehran and Washington took a turn for the worse in May 2018 when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, reached before he took office and reimposed sanctions.

Revolutionary Guards commanders have repeatedly said that U.S. bases in the Middle East and U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within range of Iranian missiles.

Rouhani said that Iran will continue to export oil in spite of U.S. sanctions aimed at reducing the country’s crude shipments to zero.

Sri Lanka Police Chief shuns President, refuses to quit

Sri Lanka’s police chief has refused a request by President Maithripala Sirisena to step down following suicide bombings on churches and hotels, two sources at the president’s office said on Saturday, deepening the rift at top levels of government.

Sirisena, facing criticism over the failure to thwart the attacks, blamed the inspector general of police Pujith Jayasundara and defense secretary Hemesiri Fernando for not sharing advance warnings of the attacks with him.

Fernando resigned earlier in the week, but Jayasundara was holding on, the two officials said.

“He has refused to resign despite the president’s request,” one of the sources said. Under Sri Lanka’s constitution, only parliament can remove the police chief through a lengthy process designed to shield officers from political interference.

The attacks in which more than 250 people were killed have exposed the divisions between Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, with both saying they had not seen warnings given by India’s spy service about impending strikes on churches and the Indian embassy including one just hours before the attacks.

Jayasundara, the police chief, was handpicked for the job by Wickremesinghe. The first source at the president’s office said Sirisena was still expecting him to turn in his papers. The second source confirmed the situation.

Both sources declined to be identified as they were not authorized to speak with media.

Jayasundara did not answer his phone or email seeking comments. An officer at the police department said the police chief had not resigned but did not come to work on Saturday.

Indonesian election: 270 electoral staff die of ‘over-work’, 1,800 fall sick

Ten days after Indonesia held the world’s biggest single-day elections, more than 270 election staff have died, mostly of fatigue-related illnesses caused by long hours of work counting millions of ballot papers by hand, an official said on Sunday.

The April 17 elections were the first time the country of 260 million people combined the presidential vote with national and regional parliamentary ones, with an aim to cut costs.

Voting was largely peaceful and was estimated to have drawn 80 percent of the total 193 million voters, who each had to punch up to five ballot papers in over 800,000 polling stations.

But conducting the eight-hour vote in a country that stretches more than 5,000 km (3,000 miles) from its western to eastern tips proven to be both a Herculean logistical feat and deadly for officials, who had to count ballot papers by hand.

As of Saturday night, 272 election officials had died, mostly from overwork-related illnesses, while 1,878 others had fallen ill, said Arief Priyo Susanto, spokesman of the General Elections Commission (KPU).

The Health Ministry issued a circular letter on April 23 urging health facilities to give utmost care for sick election staff, while the Finance Ministry is working on compensation for families of the deceased, Susanto added.

The KPU has come under fire due to the rising death toll.

“The KPU is not prudent in managing the workload of staff,” said Ahmad Muzani, deputy chairman of the campaign of opposition presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, reported by news website Kumparan.com.

Sri Lanka Easter Sunday attack leader killed

Facts have emerged how the suspected leader of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, Mohamed Zahran died.

Authorities said Zahran died in the Shangri-La hotel, one of six hotels bombed in an attack which ISIS had claimed responsibility.

Three churches were targeted in the attacks that killed over 300 people.

Police said Zahran, leader of the National Towheed Jamaat militant group, had been killed in one of the bombings, while the group’s second in command was also arrested.

Zahran amassed an online following for his hate-filled sermons. Some were delivered before a banner depicting the Twin Towers.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that the attackers responsible for the bombings were supported by the Islamic State group.

Around 140 people in Sri Lanka had connections to ISIS, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said.

“We will completely control this and create a free and peaceful environment for people to live,” he said.

Investigators determined the attackers received military training from someone called “Army Mohideen.”

They also received weapons training overseas and at some locations in Sri Lanka, according to authorities.

A copper factory operator arrested in connection with the bombings helped Mohideen make improvised explosive devices, police said.

The bombings have led to increased security throughout the island nation as authorities warned of another attack.

ISIS releases picture of seven suicide bombers that executed Sri Lanka attacks

The Islamic State (ISIS) has released a picture of the “suicide bombers responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka”.

The image was released by Amaq news agency, the official mouthpiece for the group.

ISIS had earlier claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings which led to the deaths of over 300 persons, saying it targeted Christians and Sri Lanka citizens.

“Those, who carried out the attack that targeted the citizens of the coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday were Islamic State fighters,” Amaq reported on Tuesday.

Imam Mohamad Tawhidi

@Imamofpeace

: ISIS release a portrait photo of the seven terrorists responsible for the standing in a row. Also, notice the 8th terrorist standing behind the second one from the right.

2,370 people are talking about this

While all the suspected bombers covered their faces, Zahran Hashim, an extremist cleric, left his open.

The picture was taken in front of an ISIS flag. There are also reports identifying Hashim as the mastermind of the attacks.

The group had previously named the bombers alongside Hashim as Abu Ubayda, Abu al-Mukhtar, Abu Khalil, Abu al-Bara’a, Abu Muhammad and Abu Abdullah.

The death toll from the multiple suicide attacks at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka over the Easter weekend rose to 321 on Tuesday, the national day of mourning for the victims.

There are reports that the bombings were intended as retaliation for last month’s attack against Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.

UAE launches ‘Ministry of Possibilities’

The United Arab Emirates on Tuesday unveiled a new branch of government, a Ministry of Possibilities, three years after launching a department in charge of happiness.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the UAE’s premier and ruler of Dubai, said the “unconventional” ministry would function “without a minister” but with input from the whole cabinet.

“We launched the world’s first virtual ‘Ministry of Possibilities’, a new government work system in the UAE,” he said on Twitter.

“The virtual ministry, administered by the cabinet, will address pressing national portfolios and build future government systems.”

It would also cut waiting times for government services, according to the Dubai government’s media office.

Sheikh Mohammed said: “Future challenges require the constant development of the government structure… and impossible is not in our dictionary.”

In 2016, the UAE created ministries of happiness and tolerance.

(AFP)

Trump to make state visit to UK in June

President Donald Trump has accepted Queen Elizabeth’s invitation to make a state visit to Britain in June, Buckingham Palace said on Tuesday.

Trump and his wife Melania will make the trip from June 3 to June 5, the palace said, adding that further details would be announced in due course.

Trump will hold a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street and the trip also coincides with events to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War Two.

“The UK and U.S. have a deep and enduring partnership that is rooted in our common history and shared interests,” May said in a statement.

“The State Visit is an opportunity to strengthen our already close relationship in areas such as trade, investment, security and defense, and to discuss how we can build on these ties in the years ahead.”

The Trumps met the queen for tea at Windsor Castle on their last trip to Britain in July, which was not deemed a state visit.

Similarly, Trump and his wife will travel to France on June 6, where Trump will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, the White House said in a statement on Tuesday. (Reuters/NAN)

ISIS claims responsibility for Sri Lanka bombings

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings which led to deaths of 310 persons in Sri Lanka.

Suicide bombers struck in churches and hotels in the country on Easter Sunday.

In a statement carried by the extremist group’s mouthpiece Amaq, the group said it targetted Christians and Sri Lanka citizens.

“Those, who carried out the attack that targeted the citizens of the coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka the day before yesterday were Islamic State fighters,” Amaq reported on Tuesday.

The statement referred to the US-led coalition, which has been fighting the extremist group in Iraq and Syria since it took over large areas in the two countries in 2014.

The death toll from multiple suicide attacks at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka over the Easter weekend rose to 321 on Tuesday, the national day of mourning for the victims.

Police said that the increase was due to more people succumbing to injuries.

The bombings in Sri Lanka were intended as retaliation for last month’s attack against Muslims in Christchurch, according to initial investigations by the Sri Lankan government, the deputy defence minister said.

“We believe [the massacre] was carried out by an extreme Islamist group as a reprisal to the Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand,” Ruwan Wijewardene, minister for defence, in a statement to parliament.

“This group is known to have links to an organisation named National Thowheed Jamath. We should take immediate steps to ban any such organisation that have links to extremist elements.”

Wijewardene’s comments came as security forces and police searched the capital for a lorry and a van fitted with explosives identified by police in an intelligence report.

“The search is in progress, but nothing suspicious has been found so far,” a police officer said.

Police checked several motorcycles, cars, unattended parcels and other locations.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in Geneva that 45 children were killed and dozens were injured in the suicide attacks.

“No child should experience such a heartbreaking situation and no parents should lose their child forever under such horrible circumstances,” UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac said.

Three minutes of silence were observed as more funerals of those killed in Sunday’s attacks took place.

Black and white flags were also raised in most towns as symbols of mourning. The country has been under a state of emergency since late Monday.

High security was being maintained in Colombo and in Negombo, 35 kilometres bombings north of the capital, where a mass burial took place close to a church where more than 110 people were killed.

The state of emergency gives security forces special powers, including the right to search and arrest individuals.

China didn’t bug PM’s office – Rwanda

Controversy has enveloped China-funded five-floor administrative building of Office of the Prime Minister of Rwanda believed to have been bugged.

The Rwandan minister of Infrastructure, Claver Gatete his struggling to refute the allegations which has gained currency in the country.

He, on Monday, denied claims that China may have inserted some spying equipment in building.

He said Chinese engineers have been working together with their skilled Rwandan peers to ensure that the new complex building met all required standards.

Speaking after the inauguration of the office complex which cost $ 27 million donated by China, the official labelled the claims as “unfounded”.

The Rwandan official was apparently reacting to the latest allegations that China’s government spied on the servers at the African Union’s Chinese-built headquarters for more than five years, gaining access to confidential information.

The hack wasn’t detected until January 2017 when technicians noticed that between midnight and 2 am every night, there was a peak in data usage even though the building was empty.

After investigating, it was found that the continental organization’s confidential data was being copied on to servers in Shanghai.

China’s support to Rwanda’s development process is in the form of concessional loans, grants, technical support in infrastructure projects as well as scholarships for students in health, education and technology sectors.

Danish billionaire lost three of four children in Sri Lanka bombings

Anders Povlsen, one of the owners of British online fashion retailer, Asos, says three of his four children were killed in the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka.

A series of blasts, most thought to be the work of suicide bombers, was targeted at churches and five star hotels in eight different locations.

According to Daily Mail, spokesperson for the Danish billionaire confirmed on Monday that his children were on holiday in the south Asian country.

A few days ago, one of Povlsen’s children, Alma, had uploaded an image of her three siblings, Astrid, Agnes and Alfred, lounging at a poolside.

Astrid, Agnes and Alfred, three of the billionaire's children
Astrid, Agnes and Alfred, three of the billionaire’s children

The picture posted by Alma
It is unknown which of his three children died in the bombings which have claimed at least 290 lives.

Manisha Gunasekera, Sri Lankan high commissioner to the UK, said eight British nationals were killed in the attacks.

Citizens of the US, China, Japan and Portugal were also killed in the bombing.

No group has claimed responsibility but the police have arrested 24 suspects in connection with the incident.

The police blamed the attack on National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ), an extremist group which were the subject of an intelligence warning 10 days before the attacks.

Sri Lanka says attacks carried out by suicide bombers, international network involved

Seven suicide bombers took part in the attacks on churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka that killed 290 people and wounded more than 500, an investigator said on Monday, while a government spokesman said an international network was involved.

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 targeted, but it was not immediately clear how those attacks were carried out. “Still the investigations are going on,” Welianga said.

There was no claim of responsibility for the Easter Sunday attacks, which mainly took place during church services or 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, one of those targeted, told Reuters.

“We just picked up everyone, dead or alive and evacuated them.”

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 country will seek foreign assistance to track the international links.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged on Sunday that the government had some prior information about possible attacks on churches involving a little-known local Islamist group.

A domestic intelligence report dated April 11 and seen by Reuters said a foreign intelligence agency had warned Sri Lankan authorities of possible attacks.

Four of the bombs went off at roughly the same time on Sunday, at 8.45 a.m., with two others coming within 20 minutes. The explosions at the fourth hotel and the house were in the afternoon.

Most of the dead and wounded were Sri Lankans although government officials said 32 foreigners were killed, including British, U.S., 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 Povlsen’s fashion firm said.

The U.S. State Department said in a travel advisory “terrorist groups” were continuing to plot possible attacks in Sri Lanka and targets could include tourist spots, transport hubs, shopping malls, hotels, places of worship, airports and other public areas.

The government announced a curfew in Colombo from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m.

Separately, the president said a nationwide emergency will go into effect at midnight local time on Monday, granting police and the military extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.

There were fears the attacks could spark a renewal of communal violence, with police also 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.

Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka was at war for decades with ethnic minority Tamil separatists 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.

Police said on Monday that 24 people had been arrested, all of whom were Sri Lankan.

The Sri Lankan military, who were clearing the route from Colombo airport late on Sunday in preparation for the return of President Sirisena from an overseas visit, found a crude bomb near the departure gate, an air force spokesman said.

They destroyed the device in a controlled explosion.

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 Center in the business district, where the four hotels were targeted, a Reuters witness said.

Scores of people who were stranded overnight at the main airport began making their way home as restrictions were lifted.

The government also blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, making information hard to gather.

Victims of the attacks included a British mother and son at breakfast at the Shangri-La, British media reported.

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 for Easter Sunday services. Pictures from the scene showed bodies on the ground and blood-spattered pews and statues.

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

Questions over why the intelligence report was not acted upon could feed into a feud between the prime minister 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.

Oduduru breaks Nigeria’s 13-year jinx, finishes 100m in 9.86 seconds

Divine Oduduru has broken Nigeria’s thirteen years sub 10 seconds jinx in the 100 meters race.

Oduduru broke his personal and season best records to set a world leading record of 9.95sec to win at the Michael Johnson Invitational on Saturday.

He also broke Francis Obikwelu’s national record of 19.84sec set in 1999 in the 200 meters, with a new world leading NR and SR of 19.76s.

Oduduru is the ninth Nigerian to ever run sub-10 in the 100m, and the second to go sub-20 in the 200m.

“I worked for this,” Oduduru said after the race.

“My coaches have always been telling me that I have to get into the moment where I can feel everything.

“I want to say thank you to Coach [Calvin] Robinson for getting me to this point in my life and my career.

“We have a great team, and I want to say thank you to everyone for their love and support.

Just 122 sprinters in history have broken the 10-second barrier in the 100m, and only 72 sprinters have gone sub-20 in the 200m.

“It’s something we do in practice,” he added.

“We run, time the rest, then come back and run another race. He [Robinson] said to just run it the way I do in practice.”

Olusoji Fasuba’s 9.85 second record set in 2006 yet to be broken.

Fasuba’s record was one hundredth of a second better than the old record of 9.86 seconds that was set by Namibian track and field legend Frankie Fredericks a decade earlier.

Fasuba is currently the ninth fastest 100m runner ever with a time below the 10-second mark.