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Dozens killed in Sri Lanka explosions

Officials say at least two of the blasts were caused by suicide bombers.

Police officers clear the road after explosions in Colombo (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)
Police officers clear the road after explosions in Colombo (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

Around 130 people have been killed in a series of Easter Sunday explosions targeting three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka.

State-run newspaper Daily News said 129 people died, while more than 500 were injured in the near-simultaneous blasts. Local officials said at least 138 people were killed.

Two of the blasts were suspected to have been carried out by suicide bombers.

St Anthony’s Shrine and the three hotels where the blasts took place are in Colombo, and are frequented by foreign tourists.

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(PA Graphics)

Alex Agieleson, who was near the shrine, said buildings shook with the blast, and that a number of injured people were carried away in ambulances.

Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels.

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Sri Lankan soldiers secure the area around St Anthony’s Shrine (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

Other blasts were reported at St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa.

St Sebastian’s appealed for help on its Facebook page.

The explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows at St Sebastian’s, where people carried the wounded away from blood-stained pews, local TV footage showed.

Sri Lankan security officials said they were investigating. Police immediately sealed off the areas.

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An elderly woman is helped near St Anthony’s Shrine (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has convened Sri Lanka’s top military officials at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council following the blasts.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attacks, calling them “an assault on all of humanity.”

In comments posted on Twitter, Mr Erdogan offered his condolences to families of the victims and to the people of Sri Lanka.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu added: “Regardless of the motive, the attack in Sri Lanka is the same as the traitorous attack in Christchurch: cowardly, barbaric and cruel.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the attacks as “cruel and cynical”.

In a telegram of condolences sent to his Sri Lankan counterpart, the Russian leader said Moscow remains a “reliable partner of Sri Lanka in the fight against international terrorism”.

He added that the Russians “share the grief of the relatives of those killed and wish a quick recovery to all those who were wounded”.

Mr Putin voiced confidence that “the perpetrators and the masterminds of such a cruel and cynical crime committed amid the Easter festivities will take the punishment they deserve”.

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Relatives gather outside a hospital in Colombo (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned the “devastating” attacks.

In a statement, Ms Ardern referred to the March 15 shootings in Christchurch.

She said: “New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil. New Zealand rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely.”

It was the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war a decade ago.

The magnitude of the bloodshed recalled the random bombings perpetrated by the separatist Tamil Tigers that targeted a bank, a shopping centre, a Buddhist temple and hotels popular with tourists.

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest blasts.

Sri Lankan security forces in 2009 defeated Tamil Tiger rebels who had fought to create an independent homeland for the country’s ethnic minority Tamils.

The UN initially estimated the death toll from 26 years of fighting to be about 100,000 but a UN experts’ panel later said some 45,000 ethnic Tamils may have been killed in the last months of the fighting alone.

Government troops and the Tamil Tigers were both accused of grave human rights violations, which prompted local and international calls for investigations.

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