Sri Lankan President to declare nationwide emergency from midnight after blasts

Columbo, April 22: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will declare a nationwide emergency from midnight on Monday following Easter Sunday suicide bomb blasts at churches and luxury hotels that killed 290 people and wounded more than 500, his office said.“The government has decided to gazette the clauses related to prevention of terrorism to emergency regulation and gazette it by midnight,” the president’s media unit said in a statement. It said the measure would be confined to dealing with terrorism and would not impinge on freedom of expression.The government information department said the curfew would run from 8:00pm (1430 GMT) on Monday until 4:00am on Tuesday. An indefinite curfew ordered on Sunday after the attacks was lifted early Monday but a two-day holiday was decreed in a bid to reduce public traffic. Police have arrested 24 men in connection with bomb blasts, officials said on Monday.Authorities have not made public details on those held after Sunday's attacks. But a police source told AFP the 24 were detained at two locations in and around Colombo.There was still no claim of responsibility for the attacks on two churches and four hotels in and around Colombo.A government source said President Maithripala Sirisena, who was abroad when the attacks happened, had called a meeting of the National Security Council early on Monday. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would attend the meeting, the source said. The island-wide curfew imposed by the government was lifted early on Monday, although there was uncharacteristically thin traffic in the normally bustling capital.Soldiers armed with automatic weapons stood guard outside major hotels and the World Trade Center in the business district, where the four hotels were targeted on Easter Sunday, according to a Reuters witness. Scores of people who were stranded overnight at the main airport began making their way home as restrictions were lifted.The government also blocked access to social media and messaging sites, including Facebook and WhatsApp, making information hard to come by.Sri Lankans accounted for the bulk of the 290 people killed and 500 wounded, although government officials said 32 foreigners were also killed. These included British, U.S., Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese nations.