Violence Scars the Pearl of the Indian Ocean
Sri Lankan soldiers inspect the damage inside St. Sebastian’s Church where a bomb blast took place in Negombo, Sri Lanka. (Photographer: Tharaka Basnayaka/Bloomberg)

Violence Scars the Pearl of the Indian Ocean

(Bloomberg) --

With its beautiful beaches, tropical climate and famous tea plantations, the island of Sri Lanka is often referred to as the teardrop of India or the pearl of the Indian Ocean. The explorer Marco Polo is reputed to have said that, for its size, it was “better circumstanced than any island in the world.”

That beauty belies a bloody past, which burst into view in Easter Sunday’s deadly attacks on churches and luxury hotels. Nearly 300 were killed. The government says the blasts were carried out by suicide bombers from a hitherto little-known local jihadi group.

This violence should not be conflated with the three-decade civil war that was fought between the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese majority and mostly Hindu Tamil minority, which resulted in more than 100,000 deaths. The Easter attacks were focused rather on Christians and foreigners. The terror group blamed—National Thowheed Jamath—was not an active player in the civil unrest.

While the motive is not known, the attacks send a message that instability is back in Sri Lanka, and that’s a big challenge for a government that has been troubled to say the least in the past six months by a leadership brawl.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sacked by the president—and replaced by former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapaksa—before a court reinstated him. His hold on power is still fragile. This is a chance for him to unite his country against terrorism in any form. With communal tensions still bubbling below the surface, Sri Lanka can ill afford anything else.

Violence Scars the Pearl of the Indian Ocean

Global Headlines

Tourism hit | The attack has left travelers scrambling to leave, with hotels bracing for cancellations. Tour operators in India, the biggest market for visitors to Sri Lanka, are also scrapping trips. That would hurt an industry that contributes almost 5 percent to the economy. The death toll among foreigners has risen to 39, including nationals from India, Portugal, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S.

Homegrown | Members of Sri Lanka’s Muslim community were not surprised that National Thowheed Jamath has been blamed for the bombings—they’ve been warning intelligence officials about the group for years. Part of its doctrine is to target the non-Muslim community, which it argues should be killed. The organization has splintered as leaders pursued separate funding sources, and while not all members were radicalized, experts say the group is extremist.

Iran pressure | The Trump administration won’t renew waivers that let countries buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions, after President Donald Trump got commitments from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to offset any shortfall, Nick Wadhams reports. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo plans to announce the decision today, with the current waivers due to expire on May 2.

Rare criticism | Former allies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have attacked his leadership, an unusual sign of rebellion within the party that’s governed for two decades. Ahmet Davutoglu, once Erdogan’s handpicked successor for the AK Party, said the party “must face the reality of decreasing public support” due to “arrogant” policies. The criticism comes amid signs the economy is plunging deeper into recession after last year’s currency crash.

No joke | Ukraine’s most-watched comedian romped home in a presidential runoff as voters vented frustration at the ex-Soviet republic’s lack of progress since a revolution five years ago. Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s campaign was heavy on style with only a sprinkling of policy proposals. Meanwhile, a government-backed candidate scored a razor-edge win in North Macedonia’s presidential election and will advance to a runoff against an opposition figure who opposes a deal that opened the way to western integration.

Trump roundup | The president returns from a long Easter weekend in Florida to a new political landscape. It’s one where his administration is at last freed from Robert Mueller’s pursuit, yet laid bare in all its dysfunction by the special counsel’s report. Click here for a look at Trump’s secret Moscow skyscraper project.

And finally The Sri Lanka explosions, mostly in the capital Colombo, cut through churches and hotels, destroying buildings and blowing out windows. “Even during 26 years of war, we did not experience a calamity like this,” says Hiran Cooray, chairman of Jetwing Symphony, the investment arm of Sri Lankan hotelier Jetwing. Click here for a photo slideshow of the aftermath.

Violence Scars the Pearl of the Indian Ocean

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