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Sri Lanka blasts : 207 dead

Sri Lanka Blast Updates: Multiple explosions in two churches of Colombo during Easter Mass. The churches hit were in the north of the capital, and the town of Negombo, just outside Colombo. Atleast 207 people were reported dead and more than 400 injured.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The death toll has risen to at least 207 people with hundreds more injured after a series of Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka.

Two additional explosions happened outside the capital, just hours after six nearly simultaneous blasts rocked churches and luxury hotels.

Officials say seven suspects have been arrested and two of the original six blasts are believed to have been carried out by suicide bombers. However, no one has claimed responsibility for the explosions.

Meanwhile, authorities have imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The spokesman, Brig. Atapattu, says a seventh blast occurred at a guesthouse in Dehiwala, killing at least two people. Atapattu says an eighth blast occurred in Dematagoda on the outskirts of Colombo. He did not have details on the Dematagoda blast.

The magnitude of the bloodshed recalled Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, when separatist Tamil Tigers and other rebel groups targeted the Central Bank, a shopping mall, a Buddhist temple and hotels popular with tourists.

Sri Lanka has long faced a bitter ethnic divide between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, fueling the civil war as Tamil militants tried to carve out their own homeland.

But in the years since the war ended in 2009, a religious divide has grown, with the rise of Buddhist nationalist groups that stoke anger against the minority Muslims, saying they are stealing from Buddhist temples or desecrating them, or forcing people to convert to Islam. Muslims also own many of Sri Lanka’s small shops, and many Muslims suspect small-town jealousy has led to some attacks.

Sinhalese are overwhelmingly Buddhists, while Tamils are mostly Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

St. Anthony’s Shrine and the three hotels where Sunday’s blasts took place are in Colombo, the capital, and are frequented by foreign tourists. A National Hospital spokesman, Dr. Samindi Samarakoon, told The Associated Press that they received 47 dead there, including nine foreigners, and were treating more than 200 wounded.

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

The Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted in the blast, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space.

A police magistrate was at the hotel to inspect the bodies recovered from the restaurant. From outside the police cordon, three bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.

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.

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, TV footage showed.

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

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe convened Sri Lanka’s top military officials at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council following the blasts. Wickremesinghe tweeted that “the government is taking immediate steps to contain the situation.”

The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called on Sri Lanka’s government to launch a “very impartial strong inquiry” and to punish those found responsible “mercilessly because only animals can behave like that.”

There was an outpouring of condemnation from around the world following the attacks.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the blasts “an assault on all of humanity,” while Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced them as “cruel and cynical.”

British Prime Minister Teresa May said on Twitter, “We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to (practice) their faith in fear.”

It has been a devastating week for Christians. Just last week, the beloved Notre Dame Cathedral suffered a massive fire that destroyed parts of the 12th-century landmark.

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 U.N. initially estimated the death toll from 26 years of fighting to be about 100,000 but a U.N. 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 Investigation.

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