Over 50 dead and hundreds wounded in six explosions in churches and hotels

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Six explosions were reported in hotels in the capital and three churches on Easter Sunday, killing more than 50 people and wounding hundreds. At the time of the blasts, the places of worship were full of churchgoers attending Mass services.

According to the preliminary accounts, the first explosion occurred at St Anthony's Church in Colombo. This was followed soon after by an explosion at St Sebastian Church in Katuwapitiya (Negombo). More blasts were reported at three luxury hotels in the capital: the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister's residence, and the Kingsbury. Finally, a bomb exploded in a church in Batticaloa, in the eastern part of the country.

Initial news indicates that dozens of people were killed at St Anthony's with at least 160 wounded, more than 300 were wounded in Batticaloa, and one person died and several others were wounded at the Cinnamon.

At present, there are no official declarations except for a statement from President Maithripala Sirisena asking Sri Lankans to stay calm and cooperate with the authorities involved in the investigations.

A police official speaking off the record said that the attacks on two churches could be the work of suicide bombers. A radical Islamist group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Most of Sri Lanka's 22 million people are Buddhist and Sinhalese (75 per cent). Tamils are about 18 per cent and mostly Hindus. Catholics are about 6.8 per cent of the population, divided among different ethnic groups. There is also a substantial Muslim community (9 per cent) that have clashed in the past with fundamentalist Buddhist groups, who have also occasionally targeted Christians.

Some observers speculate that the attacks could be the work of Sri Lankan Muslims returning from the wars in Syria and Iraq. However, no one has ruled that someone might be trying to block society. 

President Maithripala Sirisena is trying to stay in power in alliance with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, once his political opponent, against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Sri Lankan parliament has rejected the president's policy.

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