Suicide Blast, Gunmen Kill 8 People in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani officials said Sunday militant attacks in the country’s northwest had killed at least eight people, including security force members, children and members of the minority Sikh group.

The deadliest attack occurred in North Waziristan, a volatile district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing three soldiers and three children, according to a military statement. It said the children were aged between 4 and 11 years.

The Pakistani district borders Afghanistan and was a hub of terrorist groups until recently.

“Intelligence agencies are investigating to find out about suicide bomber and his handlers / facilitators,” said the military’s media wing, the Inter Services Public Relations.

Separately, police and witnesses said unknown gunmen shot dead two Sikh shopkeepers in a drive-by shooting in the provincial capital, Peshawar. The assailants managed to flee after the shooting.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for either attack. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the militant violence in a statement.

The Islamic State group has previously claimed attacks on the minority Sikh community.

The outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, known as the Pakistani Taliban, routinely claims attacks against security forces in the Waziristan district and elsewhere in the country.

Pakistani authorities say fugitive TTP leaders direct deadly raids from their sanctuaries across the Afghan border.

Islamabad has been urging Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban to rein in the terrorist group’s activities.

Pakistan and the United States list the TTP as a terrorist organization.

TTP attacks have spiked in Pakistan since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August. The violence has killed scores of Pakistani security forces, straining relations between the two countries.

Islamabad has held talks with the TTP in recent months, mediated by the new rulers in Kabul, in a bid to end the militant challenge but the dialogue has failed to produce any tangible outcome.

Pakistani officials say there still is a lack of policy clarity on the part of the Afghan side about how to deal with the TTP and other terrorist groups operating out of Afghanistan, despite their repeated assurances to the outside world that they would not allow Afghan soil to be used against other countries.

“They [the Afghan Taliban] tell us again and again to be patient and say they need more time to sort this [TTP] issue out,” a senior Pakistani Foreign Ministry official involved in bilateral talks told VOA.

“But when there are deadly attacks against Pakistani security forces almost on a daily basis, we fail to comprehend as to what do they practically mean by patience,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly talk to media.

He added that TTP leaders live with their families in Afghan “hideouts” close to the Pakistani border.

“The Taliban say they are refugees from Pakistan and want us to encourage them to return home. But some of these so-called refugees are actually behind cross-border attacks and refuse to negotiate peace with the Pakistani government.”

Critics say the Taliban government is reluctant to forcefully evict the TTP from Afghanistan because both share the same ideology. For years, the TTP sheltered the Afghan Taliban on the Pakistani side and provided them with recruits to wage insurgent attacks against the now-defunct Western-backed Kabul government and its U.S.-led foreign military partners.

“The Taliban, however, have a genuine fear or apprehension that if TTP fighters are forced to leave Afghanistan they may instead join Islamic State ranks to pose even a bigger security challenge to the nascent government,” the Pakistani official said.

Islamic State group attacks in Afghanistan have increased since the Taliban returned to power there, killing scores of people, mostly Hazara Shi’ite community members.

Source: Voice of America

Crisis-Hit Sri Lanka Lifts Curfew for Buddhist Festival

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA —

Sri Lankan authorities lifted a nationwide curfew on Sunday for an important Buddhist festival, but celebrations were muted as the island nation's new premier struggled to find his footing and tackle a worsening economic crisis.

A countrywide stay-home order has been in place for most of the week after mob violence left nine dead and over 225 wounded, sparked by attacks on peaceful demonstrators by government loyalists.

Protesters across the Buddhist-majority nation have for weeks demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over Sri Lanka's worst-ever economic crisis.

Shortages of food, fuel and medicines, along with record inflation and lengthy blackouts, have brought severe hardships to the country's 22 million people.

Sunday marks Vesak, the most important religious event on Sri Lanka's calendar, which celebrates Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death.

The government has declared a two-day holiday and announced it was lifting the curfew for the day without saying when or whether it would be reimposed.

But the ongoing crisis prompted the government to cancel its plans to celebrate the festival, which had been scheduled at a temple in the island's south.

"Given the economic situation of the government and other constraints, we are not having this year's state festival at the Kuragala temple as planned," a Buddhist Affairs ministry official told AFP.

The official said Buddhists were free to hold their own celebrations, including the mass meditation and Buddhist sermons traditionally organized during the festival.

Worshippers usually set up soup kitchens, lanterns and "pandal" bamboo stages bearing large paintings depicting stories from Buddha's life.

But Sri Lanka has been unable to properly stage Vesak for years, with the Easter Sunday attacks dampening celebrations in 2019 and the last two years affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Everybody knows that it is Lord Buddha's special day today," said Chamila Perera, a housewife in the capital Colombo.

"We are hoping good things will happen," she told AFP. "But I'm feeling very sad."

Newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is struggling to form a unity government ahead of Tuesday's parliamentary session, the first since he took office.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has already formally rejected an overture to join the new administration.

"The demand from the streets is that President Rajapaksa should step down," Premadasa said. "We will not join any government with him in it."

But he added that his party would not block legitimate "solutions to the economic problems" in parliament.

Rajapaksa on Saturday appointed four new ministers, all from his own Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, but the all-important finance ministry remains vacant.

Official sources said the new prime minister could take the finance portfolio to spearhead ongoing negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for an urgent bailout.

Wickremesinghe, a veteran politician who was sworn in as prime minister for a sixth time on Thursday, has already met with diplomats from Britain, the United States, Japan, China and India to seek financial aid.

He said last week that shortages will get worse in the coming weeks, with reserves of usable foreign exchange needed to import essential goods falling below $50 million.

His appointment has so far failed to quell public anger at the government for bringing Sri Lanka to the brink of economic collapse.

"All these people are hand-in-glove," Fareena, a resident of the capital Colombo, said of the new premier.

"When one goes, they bring another one of their guys in," she told AFP. "But to us, they are all the same."

Long queues stretched outside the few fuel stations that were still open on Sunday as motorists waited for rationed petrol.

Heavily armed troops are patrolling the streets with a state of emergency still in effect.

Source: Voice of America

Emomali Rahmon Congratulates Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed On Being Elected UAE President

The Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation, President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon sent a congratulatory letter to the newly elected President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

“Your Highness,

Please accept our sincere congratulations and best wishes on your election as President of the United Arab Emirates.

I am confident that during your tenure in this high state post, the friendly relations and mutually beneficial cooperation between Tajikistan and the United Arab Emirates, which share a long tradition, will continue to strengthen and expand.

We appreciate the process of development of multifaceted relations between our countries and are always loyal to the cause of further enrichment of their content with new practical initiatives in all areas of mutual interest.

In this context, I express the readiness of Tajik side to make further joint efforts in this direction.

I wish you good health and every success in the fulfillment of your responsibilities, and the brotherly people of the United Arab Emirates — peace, stability and prosperity.

Source: National information agency of Tajikistan