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    Pope Francis is delivering his annual Easter message Sunday after leading Mass at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. >> Watch the address here Every year after the Easter Mass, the pope delivers an “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message, which addresses global issues and conflicts. >> PHOTOS: Pope Francis celebrates Easter Mass at the Vatican This year’s speech comes hours after blasts rocked multiple churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more. >> Read more trending news  Please return for updates.
  • Pope Francis celebrated Easter Mass on Sunday, marking the most joyful moment of the year for the faithful even as the church faced a fresh round of bloodshed targeting Christians in Sri Lanka. Hours after celebrating a late-night vigil, Francis processed into a flower-decked St. Peter's Square for the liturgy commemorating the resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion. Francis didn't deliver a homily. But after Mass he is to deliver his annual Easter 'Urbi et Orbi' ('to the city and the world') speech about conflicts and other difficulties around the world. This year the Easter season has been marred both by the destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris by fire last week and the massacre on Sunday in Sri Lanka. More than 130 people were killed and hundreds wounded following near-simultaneous blasts at three Sri Lankan churches during Easter Sunday services and three hotels frequented by foreigners. The Vatican didn't immediately explain why Francis skipped the homily on Sunday. However, the 82-year-old Francis has just completed an exhausting few days of Holy Week commemorations, including travelling to a prison outside Rome to wash the feet of inmates on Holy Thursday, presiding over the Way of the Cross procession at Rome's Colosseum on Good Friday and celebrating the Easter Vigil late Saturday night in St. Peter's Basilica.
  • The Latest on Ukraine's presidential runoff: (all times local): 12:30 p.m. A comedian who has a strong chance to win Ukraine's presidential vote says his campaign already has helped unite the country. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 41, who comes from Ukraine's mostly Russian-speaking east, got twice as many votes as President Petro Poroshenko in the first round of voting three weeks ago. Opinion polls have shown him far ahead of the incumbent ahead of Sunday's runoff, reflecting public disenchantment with Ukraine's pervasive corruption and its political elite. Speaking after casting his ballot in the Ukrainian capital, Zelenskiy predicted that Sunday's vote will mark a 'victory for the Ukrainian people.' He added that 'we have united the country.' Like Poroshenko, Zelenskiy has promised to keep Ukraine on a pro-Western course, but says the country needs to hold a nationwide referendum on whether to join NATO. ___ 10:10 a.m. Corruption and economic stagnation are big issues for voters in Ukraine's presidential runoff. Lyudmila Potrebko, a 22-year-old computer programmer, cast her ballot for Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comedian who is challenging President Petro Poroshenko. She says 'I have grown up under the old politicians and only have seen empty promises, lies and corruption ... It's time to change that.' Zelenskiy, 41, got twice as many votes as Poroshenko in the first round three weeks ago. Like his sitcom character, a teacher thrust into the presidency after a video of him blasting corruption goes viral, he has focused on fighting graft, riding the wave of public distrust of Ukraine's political elite. Many voters in this nation of 42 million are struggling to survive on meager wages and soaring utility bills. Irina Fakhova, a 55-year-old sales clerk, says 'we have grown poor under Poroshenko and have to save to buy food and clothing ... we have had enough of them getting mired in corruption and filling their pockets and treating us as fools.' ___ 8 a.m. Polls have opened in Ukraine's presidential runoff as the nation's incumbent leader struggles to fend off a strong challenge by a comedian who denounces corruption and plays the role of president in a TV sitcom. Opinion surveys ahead of Sunday's vote have shown 53-year-old President Petro Poroshenko trailing far behind comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, reflecting public dismay with endemic corruption, a moribund economy and a five-year fight against Russia-backed insurgents in the country's east. Zelenskiy, 41, got twice as many votes as Poroshenko in the first round three weeks ago. Like his sitcom character, a teacher thrust into the presidency after a video of him blasting corruption goes viral, he has focused on fighting graft, riding the wave of public distrust of Ukraine's political elite. Poroshenko, a billionaire candy magnate before taking office, has relied on traditional political barnstorming, using sympathetic television stations to extensively cover his appearances. Zelenskiy, however, has largely stayed away from the campaign trail and eschewed interviews. He has run his campaign mainly on Instagram, where he has 3.7 million followers.
  • Displaced by a massive fire, Notre Dame Cathedral's Paris parishioners are gathering to celebrate Easter in another church and to pray for a speedy reconstruction of their beloved monument. The fire that engulfed Notre Dame during Holy Week has forced worshippers to find other places to attend Easter services. The Paris diocese invited them to attend Easter Mass on Sunday at the grandiose Saint-Eustache Church on the Right Bank of the Seine River. Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit will lead the service. Other Catholics from around France and other countries who wanted to mark Easter in Notre Dame are also expected to attend. Notre Dame isn't expected to reopen to the public for at least five or six years, according to its rector, although the French president is pushing for a quick reconstruction. Investigators believe the fire was an accident.
  • Egyptian pro-government media are urging a 'Yes' vote on the second day of a nationwide referendum that would allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to stay in power until 2030. Polls reopened at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT) Sunday. Voting will continue through Monday to allow maximum turnout, which the government hopes will lend the referendum legitimacy. Election officials say results are expected within a week. Opposition parties have called on voters to reject the changes, blasted by critics as a major step back to authoritarianism. Voting comes amid an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since the 2013 military ouster of an elected but divisive president. El-Sissi came to power in 2014 and was re-elected for a second four-year term last year. Trucks with loudspeakers drove around central Cairo Sunday morning urging high turnout.
  • Polls opened Sunday in Ukraine's presidential runoff as the nation's incumbent leader struggles to fend off a strong challenge by a comedian who denounces corruption and plays the role of president in a TV sitcom. Opinion surveys ahead of the vote have shown 53-year-old President Petro Poroshenko trailing far behind comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, reflecting public dismay with endemic corruption, a moribund economy and a five-year fight against Russia-backed insurgents in the country's east. Zelenskiy, 41, got twice as many votes as Poroshenko in the first round three weeks ago. Like his sitcom character, a teacher thrust into the presidency after a video of him blasting corruption goes viral, he has focused on fighting graft, riding the wave of public distrust of Ukraine's political elite. 'I have grown up under the old politicians and only have seen empty promises, lies and corruption,' said Lyudmila Potrebko, a 22-year-old computer programmer who cast her ballot for Zelenskiy. 'It's time to change that.' Poroshenko, a billionaire candy magnate before taking office, has relied on traditional political barnstorming, using sympathetic television stations to extensively cover his appearances. Zelenskiy, however, has largely stayed away from the campaign trail and eschewed interviews. He has run his campaign mainly on Instagram, where he has 3.7 million followers. Poroshenko's attempts to counter the challenger online have often been awkward, including a video that showed Zelenskiy being run over by a truck with a streak resembling a line of cocaine left behind. There is no evidence that Zelenskiy, a fitness fan, uses drugs. The campaign was marked by fierce mutual criticism and a jockeying for dominance, wrapping up with Friday's debate at the nation's largest sports arena in which both rivals fell on their knees in a melodramatic moment to ask forgiveness of those who lost relatives on the eastern battlefront. Millions of Ukrainians who live in the rebel-controlled east and in Russia-annexed Crimea are unable to vote. The incumbent campaigned on the same promise he made when he was elected in 2014: to lead the nation of 42 million into the European Union and NATO — the goals that look elusive amid Ukraine's economic problems, pervasive corruption and fighting in the east. A visa free deal with the EU spawned the exodus of millions of skilled workers for better living conditions elsewhere in Europe. Poroshenko also has boasted of his successful push to create a new Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent from Moscow's Patriarchate and pushed for a bill that would outlaw the Russian language, which remains widely spoken in Ukraine. 'Poroshenko has done a lot of good things for the country, creating its own church, getting the visa-free deal and taking Ukraine away from the empire,' said 44-year-old businessman Volodymyr Andreichenko who voted for him. But Poroshenko's message has fallen flat with many voters who are struggling to survive on meager wages and pay soaring utility bills. 'We have grown poor under Poroshenko and have to save to buy food and clothing,' said 55-year-old sales clerk Irina Fakhova. 'We have had enough of them getting mired in corruption and filling their pockets and treating us as fools.' Zelenskiy, who comes from Ukraine's mostly Russian-speaking east, has opposed the Russian language restrictions and mocked the creation of the new church as a campaign stunt. He has focused heavily on corruption allegations that have dogged Poroshenko and showered the president with questions about his assets during Friday's debate. Poroshenko denies any link to an alleged embezzlement scheme involving one of his companies and a top associate. Like Poroshenko, Zelenskiy pledged to keep Ukraine's on its pro-Western course, but said the country should only join NATO if voters approve that in a referendum. He promised that his No. 1 priority would be direct talks with Russia to end fighting in eastern Ukraine that erupted after Russia's annexation of Crimea and has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. Zelenskiy's image has been shadowed by his admission that he had commercial interests in Russia through a holding company, and by his business ties to self-exiled billionaire businessman Ihor Kolomoyskyi, a Poroshenko archrival who owns the TV station that aired the sitcom the actor starred in as well as his comedy shows. 'Both candidates stand for integration into Europe, both kneel to honor those killed in the war with Russia, both are linked to oligarchs,' 67-year-old teacher Dmytro Volokhovets said with a touch of sarcasm. 'But Zelenskiy will win because he's young and new.' Just a few hours before polls opened, a court in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev heard a suit filed by a Zelenskiy foe who claimed that the actor tried to bribe voters when his campaign offered tickets to the debate and demanded that his registration be annulled. The court rejected the demand early Sunday.
  • Is the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dead? After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coasted to another victory in this month's Israeli election, it sure seems that way. On the campaign trail, Netanyahu ruled out Palestinian statehood and for the first time, pledged to begin annexing Jewish settlements in the West Bank. His expected coalition partners, a collection of religious and nationalist parties, also reject Palestinian independence. Even his chief rivals, led by a trio of respected former military chiefs and a charismatic former TV anchorman, barely mentioned the Palestinian issue on the campaign trail and presented a vision of 'separation' that falls far short of Palestinian territorial demands. The two Jewish parties that dared to talk openly about peace with the Palestinians captured just 10 seats in the 120-seat parliament, and opinion polls indicate dwindling support for a two-state solution among Jewish Israelis. 'The majority of the people in the state of Israel no longer see a two-state solution as an option,' said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy for the Yesha settler council, himself an opponent of Palestinian independence. 'If we are looking for peace in this region, we will have to look for a different plan from the two-state solution.' For the past 25 years, the international community has supported the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — as the best way to ensure peace in the region. The logic is clear. With the number of Arabs living on lands controlled by Israel roughly equal to Jews, and the Arab population growing faster, two-state proponents say a partition of the land is the only way to guarantee Israel's future as a democracy with a strong Jewish majority. The alternative, they say, is either a binational state in which a democratic Israel loses its Jewish character or an apartheid-like entity in which Jews have more rights than Arabs. After decades of fruitless negotiations, each side blames the other for failure. Israel says the Palestinians have rejected generous peace offers and promoted violence and incitement. The Palestinians say the Israeli offers have not been serious and point to Israel's ever-expanding settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, now home to nearly 700,000 Israelis. The ground further shifted after the Hamas militant group took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 and left the Palestinians divided between two governments, with one side — Hamas — opposed to peace with Israel. This ongoing rift is a major obstacle to negotiations with Israel, and has also left many Palestinians disillusioned with their leaders. Since taking office a decade ago, Netanyahu has largely ignored the Palestinian issue, managing the conflict without offering a solution for how two peoples will live together in the future. After clashing with the international community for most of that time, he has found a welcome friend in President Donald Trump, whose Mideast team has shown no indication of supporting Palestinian independence. Tamar Hermann, an expert on Israeli public opinion at the Israel Democracy Institute, said the election results do not necessarily mean that Israelis have given up on peace. Instead, she said the issue just isn't on people's minds. 'Most Israelis would say the status quo is preferable to all other options, because Israelis do not pay any price for it,' she said. 'They don't feel the outcome of the occupation. ... Why change it?' While the two-state prospects seem dim, its proponents still cling to the belief that the sides will ultimately come around, simply because there is no better choice. 'Either Israel decides to be an apartheid state with a minority that is governing a majority of Palestinians, or Israel has to realize that there is no other solution but two states,' Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told The Associated Press. 'Unfortunately the Israeli prime minister is politically blind about these two facts.' Shtayyeh noted the two-state solution continues to enjoy wide international backing. Peace, he insisted, is just a matter of 'will' by Israel's leaders. Dan Shapiro, who served as President Barack Obama's ambassador to Israel, said the two-state solution 'is certainly getting harder' after the Israeli election but is not dead. Getting there would require leadership changes on both sides, he said, pointing to the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt 40 years ago, reached by two leaders who were sworn enemies just two years earlier. 'We know what's possible when the right leadership is in place,' he said. 'So that puts us supporters of it in a mode of trying to keep it alive and viable for the future.' That may be a tall task as the Israeli election results appear to reflect a deeper shift in public opinion. According to the Israel Democracy Institute, which conducts monthly surveys of public opinion, support for the two-state solution among Jewish Israelis has plummeted from 69% in 2008, the year before Netanyahu took office, to 47% last year. Just 32% of Israelis between the ages of 18-34 supported a two-state solution in 2018. The institute typically surveys 600 people, with a margin of error of just over 4 percentage points. Attitudes are changing on the Palestinian side as well. Khalil Shikaki, a prominent Palestinian pollster, said 31% of Palestinians seek a single binational state with full equality, a slight increase from a decade ago. His poll surveyed 1,200 people and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Although there was no breakdown by age group, Shikaki said the young are 'clinging less to the two-state solution because they lost faith in the Palestinian Authority's ability to provide a democratic state' and because the expanding settlements have created a new reality on the ground. Amr Marouf, a 27-year-old restaurant manager in the city of Ramallah, said he maintains his official residence in a village located in the 60% of the West Bank that Israel controls, just in case Israel annexes the territory. That way, he believes, he can gain Israeli citizenship. 'I think the one state solution is the only viable solution,' he said. 'We can be in Israel and ask for equal rights. Otherwise, we will live under military occupation forever.' Netanyahu is expected to form his new coalition government by the end of May, and he will come under heavy pressure from his partners to keep his promise to annex Israel's West Bank settlements. Such a step could extinguish any hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state, particularly if the U.S. supports it. American officials, who have repeatedly sided with Israel, have said nothing against Netanyahu's plan. There is also the Trump administration's long-delayed peace plan, which officials have signaled could finally be released this summer. U.S. officials have said little about the plan, but have indicated it will go heavy on economic assistance to the Palestinians while falling far short of an independent state along the 1967 lines. Shtayyeh said such a plan would be a nonstarter. 'This is a financial blackmail, which we reject,' he said. ___ Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.
  • The Latest on explosions in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday (all times local): 3:10 p.m. The archbishop of Paris and parishioners of fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral are mourning the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka. Archbishop Michel Aupetit tweeted: 'Why so much hate on this day when we celebrate love? On this Easter day, we are in communion with our murdered brethren of Sri Lanka.' Aupetit celebrated Easter Mass for worshippers displaced from normal services at Notre Dame because of Monday's fire. A soldier and several police guarded the building. It was unclear whether the extra security was linked to the Sri Lanka attack, but parishioner Monique Pigere said 'I understand why' security is needed, lamenting the 'terrible' news. ___ 3:05 p.m. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has condemned the 'devastating' attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. In a statement, Ardern referred to the March 15 shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch in which 50 died. 'New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil,' Ardern said. 'New Zealand rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely.' The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says 115 New Zealanders are registered as being in Sri Lanka but more are likely to be there. There is no indication New Zealanders are among the victims. ___ 3 p.m. European leaders are expressing horror at the attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote in a message to his Sri Lankan counterpart that he was 'stunned and horrified' by the 'cowardly terror attacks.' Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz wrote on Twitter that he was 'deeply shaken and concerned by (the) devious terrorist attacks.' The head of the European Union's executive Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said he learned of the bombings 'with horror and sadness.' ___ 2:50 p.m. Three Gulf Arab nations have condemned the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that have killed at least 138 people. Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates all issued statements via their foreign ministries over the attack. The UAE called upon 'the international community to close ranks and uproot the scourge of terrorism in order to ensure international peace and security.' Qatar said it wanted to stress its 'its firm stance on rejecting violence and terrorism.' Bahrain, meanwhile, said 'these acts of terrorism are incompatible with religious principles and human and moral values.' The series of blasts at three churches and three luxury hotels killed at least 138 people. It's the worst spout of violence in Sri Lanka since the South Asian country's bloody civil war ended a decade ago. ___ 2:40 p.m. British Prime Minister Teresa May has condemned what she called the 'truly appalling' attacks in Sri Lanka. May said on Twitter that 'The acts of violence against churches and hotels in Sri Lanka are truly appalling, and my deepest sympathies go out to all of those affected at this tragic time.' She added, 'We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to (practice) their faith in fear.' The series of blasts at three churches and three luxury hotels killed at least 138 people. It's the worst spout of violence in Sri Lanka since the South Asian country's bloody civil war ended a decade ago. ___ 2:30 p.m. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced a series of attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka as 'cruel and cynical.' In a telegram of condolences sent to his Sri Lankan counterpart, the Russian leader said Moscow remains a 'reliable partner of Sri Lanka in the fight against international terrorism.' He added that the Russians 'share the grief of the relatives of those killed and wish a quick recovery to all those who were wounded' after the Easter Sunday blasts that killed at least 138 people. Putin voiced confidence that 'the perpetrators and the masterminds of such a cruel and cynical crime committed amid the Easter festivities will take the punishment they deserve.' ___ 2:25 p.m. The Archbishop of Colombo is calling for those responsible for the Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka to be punished 'mercilessly.' 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.'  The series of blasts at three churches and three luxury hotels killed at least 138 people. It's the worst spout of violence in Sri Lanka since the South Asian country's bloody civil war ended a decade ago. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was meeting top military officials and tweeted earlier Sunday that 'the government is taking immediate steps to contain the situation.' ___ 2:10 p.m. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, calling them 'an assault on all of humanity.' In comments posted on Twitter, Erdogan offered his condolences to families of the victims and to the people of Sri Lanka. The near simultaneous attacks against three churches and three luxury hotels killed at least 138 people, according to a security official. It was the worst violence in the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: 'Regardless of the motive, the attack in Sri Lanka is the same as the traitorous attack in Christchurch: cowardly, barbaric and cruel.' He was referring to last month's attacks against two mosques in New Zealand during Friday prayers that killed 50 people. ___ 1:50 p.m. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has convened Sri Lanka's top military officials at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council following a series of Easter Sunday blasts. A senior official says at least 138 people died in the blasts at three churches and three luxury hotels. Hundreds of others have been hospitalized. The violence is the worst since Sri Lanka's bloody civil war ended a decade ago. The official says at least two of the blasts were suspected to have been caused by suicide bombers. Earlier, Wickremesinghe tweeted that 'the government is taking immediate steps to contain the situation.' ___ 1:50 p.m. Pakistan's foreign ministry has condemned explosions and terrorist attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal said in a statement that the people and government of Pakistan stand by Sri Lanka after the Easter Sunday blasts that killed at least 138 people. Pakistan and Sri Lanka enjoy close relations. Pakistan helped train Sri Lankan army officers in the civil war battle against Tamil rebels. ___ 11:10 a.m. A Sri Lanka hospital spokesman says several blasts on Easter Sunday have killed at least 30 people and wounded 283 others. National Hospital spokesman Dr. Samindi Samarakoon says the nearly 300 wounded have been admitted to the capital Colombo's main hospital. A security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters says that six near simultaneous explosions hit three churches and three hotels frequented by foreign tourists. The official suspects at least two of the blasts were caused by suicide bombers. ___ 10:50 a.m. A security official says six near simultaneous blasts have hit three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. The official says the explosions have caused multiple fatalities among worshippers and hotel guests. The official says they suspect the blasts at two churches were carried out by suicide bombers. One church, St. Anthony's Shrine, and the three hotels are in Colombo and are frequented by foreign tourists. The other two churches are in Negombo, a Catholic majority town north of Colombo, and the eastern town of Batticaloa. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with reporters. ___ 10:10 a.m. Witnesses are reporting two explosions have hit two churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, causing casualties among worshippers. The first blast ripped through St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo. Alex Agileson who was in the vicinity says buildings in the surrounding area shook with the blast. He says a number of injured were carried in ambulances. A second explosion was reported at St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, a Catholic majority town north of Colombo. The church has appealed for help on its Facebook page. Sri Lankan security officials say they are checking for details.
  • At least 138 people were killed and hundreds more injured in near simultaneous blasts that rocked three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, a security official said, in the worst bout of violence in the South Asian country since its civil war ended a decade ago. Two of the blasts were suspected to have been carried out by suicide bombers, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with reporters. Worshippers and hotel guests were among the dead, the official said. 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. No one immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday's blasts. 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.' 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 investigations.
  • Madison Mendoza, her feet aching and her face burned by the sun, wept as she said she had nothing to feed her 2-year-old son who she'd brought with her on the long trek toward the United States. Mendoza, 22, said an aunt in Honduras had convinced her to join the migrant caravan, which she did two weeks ago in the capital of Tegucigalpa. The aunt said she'd have no problems, that people along the route in Mexico would help as they did for a large caravan that moved through the area in October. But this time, the help did not come. The outpouring of aid that once greeted Central American migrants as they trekked in caravans through southern Mexico has been drying up. Hungrier, advancing slowly or not at all, and hounded by unhelpful local officials, frustration is growing among the 5,000 to 8,000 migrants in the southern state of Chiapas. 'What causes me pain is that the baby asks me for food and there are days when I can't provide it,' said Mendoza, who fled Honduras with almost no money because she feared for her life after receiving threats from the father of her son. 'I thought that with the baby, people would help me on road.' Members of the caravan in October received food and shelter from town governments, churches and passers-by. Drivers of trucks stopped to give them a lift. Little of that is happening this time. And local officials who once gave them temporary permits to work in Mexico, now seem to snare them in red tape. Truckers and drivers have been told they will be fined if caught transporting migrants without proper documentation. Mendoza bathed her son, José, under a stream of water in Escuintla, a Mexican town 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the Guatemalan border. It was the first time she has been able to bath the child since they left Tegucigalpa. 'I don't even have a peso,' she said, teary-eyed. Many migrants are collecting mangos and fruits from trees along the route and sharing food among themselves. Some 1,300 migrants spent the night in Escuintla and were heading north to the town of Mapastepec, Chiapas. Mendoza and José arrived in Mapastepec on Saturday. They joined thousands of stranded migrants waiting to see if local authorities provide them with a temporary permit or visa to work in Mexico or whether they would continue their trip to the U.S. border. Heyman Vázquez, a parish priest in Huixtla, a community along the caravan's route, said local support for the Central American migrants has dried up because of an anti-migrant discourse that blames them for crime and insecurity. 'It is due to the campaign of discrimination and xenophobia created through social networks and the media that blames migrants for the insecurity in Chiapas,' he said. Oscar Pérez, who sells cooked pork in Ulapa, a village along the way, said people have become tired of supporting the migrants because of reports that 'they've become aggressive.' He acknowledged, however, that he doesn't know of anyone who has been attacked by a migrant. The frustration felt by the migrants is affecting Geovani Villanueva, who has spent 25 days along with several hundred other migrants at a sports complex in Mapastepec waiting for a permit that would let him legally and safely travel north with his wife, two small children and four other relatives. 'I think it's a strategy by the government to wear us out,' said Villanueva, 51. The latest caravan is heading north during Holy Week in Latin America, when many activists organize processions to dramatize the hardships and needs of migrants. Caravans became a popular way of making the trek because the migrants find safety in numbers and save money by not hiring smugglers. Mexico is under pressure from the Trump administration to thwart them from reaching the U.S. border. In April, President Donald Trump threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border before changing course and threatening tariffs on automobiles produced in Mexico if that country does not stop the flow of Central American migrants. U.S. border facilities have been overwhelmed by the number of migrant families. U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced recent that 53,000 parents and children were apprehended at the border in March. Nancy Valladares, who is from the city of Progreso in Honduras, is part of the caravan that reached Mapastepec. She is traveling with her husband and two daughters in baby carriages. She said the family hoped to reach the U.S. and find help for her 2-year-old daughter Belen, who she says was born with microcephaly due to a Zika infection, and cannot walk or talk. Valladares complained that they weren't able to find anyone to give them a ride, and when her family and scores of other migrants climbed on to a truck-trailer in Escuintla, federal police forced them to get down and walk. Tired and angry, many migrants no longer want to talk to reporters. Villanueva, who owned several small stores back in Honduras, said he left his homeland because gangs had threatened to kill him after he refused to pay extortion. He said he left to save his life and one thing is clear to him: there is no turning back. --- AP journalist María Verza contributed to this report from Mexico City.

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  • Pope Francis is delivering his annual Easter message Sunday after leading Mass at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. >> Watch the address here Every year after the Easter Mass, the pope delivers an “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message, which addresses global issues and conflicts. >> PHOTOS: Pope Francis celebrates Easter Mass at the Vatican This year’s speech comes hours after blasts rocked multiple churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more. >> Read more trending news  Please return for updates.
  • Explosions hit at least three churches and four hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more, news outlets are reporting. >> PHOTOS: Easter Sunday blasts at Sri Lanka churches, hotels kill dozens Here are the latest updates: Update 5:32 a.m. EDT April 21: Two more blasts have been reported in Sri Lanka. A seventh explosion hit a hotel in Dehiwala, and an eighth blast was reported in the capital, Agence France-Presse is reporting. Update 4:20 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 156 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 35 foreigners, officials said. Update 3:34 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 137 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 45 people in Colombo, 67 in Negombo and 25 in Batticaloa, officials said. At least nine of the people killed were foreigners, the news agency reported. More than 500 people were hurt in the explosions, according to The Associated Press. Original report: Explosions hit three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing dozens of people and injuring nearly 300 more, news outlets are reporting. According to The Associated Press, blasts occurred Sunday morning at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and a church in Batticaloa. Explosions also rocked the Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand and Shangri La hotels in Colombo, the BBC reported. >> Read more trending news The Agence France-Presse news agency said 52 people died in the blasts. At least 283 people were taken to the hospital, the AP reported. Suicide bombers may have caused at least two of the church blasts, a security official told the AP.  – The Associated Press contributed to this report
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office says a 19-year-old man has been arrested for a deadly double shooting back in February.  JSO asked for your help finding the suspect, Trevon Wiley, just days after the February 16th shooting on Matthew Street; now he's been taken into custody.  According to police, Wiley was sitting in a barber chair next to one of the victims getting their haircut. Police say he then stood up, without saying anything, displayed a gun and then shot the victim multiple times, killing him. Police identified the victim as Ziykye Barnhill. JSO says a second person was shot during this incident, but survived.  Police say multiple witnesses came forward to help with the shooting investigation.  Wiley is charged with murder and attempted murder.
  • The family of a 5-year-old boy thrown from a third-floor balcony at the Mall of America last week says he is making “small steps” as he recovers from his devastating injuries. Landen Hoffman was shopping with his mother and friends around 10:15 a.m. April 12 when Emmanuel Deshawn Aranda, 24, of Minneapolis, is accused of picking the boy up and hurling him over a railing to the first floor nearly 40 feet below. Aranda tried to run, but police, with help from witnesses, found him on a light rail train at the mall and took him into custody.  >> Read more trending news “The family doesn’t know him and are completely clueless as to why this monster would target their family with this heinous act of violence,” a GoFundMe page set up to help with Landen’s medical bills states. As of Friday morning, the page had raised more than $870,000 of its $1 million goal.  Landen, who suffered broken arms and legs and significant head trauma, was initially in critical condition, according to the criminal complaint against Aranda. His condition has since stabilized, but he has a long road to recovery, the GoFundMe page reads.  “(His) condition is again similar to previous days. Another peaceful night of sleep -- small steps towards the healing process. Each new day is a good day,” the page read Thursday.  “Landen's recovery is expected to be ongoing for a long time. While it’s hard to estimate costs, this will change everything for their family and require much of their time and focus.” Aranda is charged with attempted premeditated first-degree murder, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. Aranda is being held in the Hennepin County Jail in lieu of $2 million bond.  >> Related story: Man who threw 5-year-old from third floor of Mall of America intended to kill someone, police say “This crime has shocked the community,” Freeman said in a news release. “That a child, with his mother at a safe public area like a mall, could be violently attacked for no reason is chilling for everyone. Our victim advocates are working with the family during this very difficult time for them. We charged Mr. Aranda with the most severe crime that the evidence allowed.” Bloomington police Chief Jeff Potts said during a news conference Saturday that Aranda was cooperative with detectives. The criminal complaint indicates that Aranda confessed to committing the brazen assault.  Read the criminal complaint against Emmanuel Aranda below. “This is a horrific situation,” Potts said. “The family and this child are in our thoughts and prayers. I know the family appreciates all the thoughts and prayers they can get on this case.” The Hoffman family issued a statement through Freeman’s office showing appreciation for the outpouring of support from the community but requesting privacy as Landen recovers from his life-threatening injuries.  Mall of America officials also praised the outpouring of support. “We are grateful for the efforts of all the first responders involved -- including guests and tenants -- for their immediate actions and the outpouring of concern shown by so many for this young child and his family,” a statement read. “For those who have left gifts, flowers and messages of love at the mall, we thank you. Please know we will keep these items safe and handle them according to the family’s wishes.” The criminal complaint says Aranda told police he had gone to the mall on April 11 intending to kill an adult, but that it did not “work out.” He returned to the mall the next day.  “He said he planned to kill an adult because they usually stand near the balcony, but he chose the victim instead,” the document reads.  Aranda told investigators he chose to kill out of frustration over years of rejection from the opposite sex.  “Defendant indicated he had been coming to the mall for several years and had made efforts to talk to women in the mall, but had been rejected,” the complaint says. “The rejection caused him to lash out and be aggressive.”  Aranda admitted he knew what he did was wrong. “Defendant acknowledged repeatedly in his interview that he had planned and intended to kill someone at the mall that day, and that he was aware that what he was doing was wrong,” the document says.  According to the criminal complaint, surveillance camera footage shows Aranda walking on the third floor of the mall and looking over the balcony several times before approaching Landen and his mother.  Landen’s mother told detectives she saw Aranda approach and stand very close to her and her son, the newspaper reported. She asked him if he needed them to move. “Without warning, defendant picked up the victim and threw him off the third floor balcony in front of (Landen’s mother) and several other witnesses, including children,” the complaint states.  Witnesses told the Minneapolis Star Tribune they heard screaming after the boy went over the railing. “Oh my God! Pray for my son!” Landen’s mother begged, witnesses told the newspaper.  Potts said Saturday that Aranda previously was arrested at the Mall of America. Officers were called there in July 2015 after Aranda was seen throwing an object from the third floor.  “When the officers tried to speak with him, he became … he was not cooperative,” Potts said.  Aranda was charged in that incident with obstruction, disorderly conduct and damage to property, the chief said.  Watch the update from Bloomington police Chief Jeff Potts below.  He was also accused of trespassing at the mall previously after he threw a glass of water in a woman’s face and destroyed property, the criminal complaint says. It was not clear if that was the same incident Potts spoke about during his news conference.  Aranda had been banned from the mall, but apparently ignored the ban.  Aranda next came in contact with Bloomington police officers at a local restaurant, where he refused to pay his bill, Potts said. In a third 2015 incident, Aranda was accused of throwing a glass at a worker at a different restaurant.  He was charged with fifth-degree assault, trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing legal process in the third case. That was the last contact Bloomington officers had with Aranda prior to the alleged assault at the mall last week.  The Star Tribune reported that Aranda was also previously arrested for smashing computers at a public library in Minneapolis. At that time, he told arresting officers he has “anger issues,” the newspaper said.  Court records indicate Aranda has a string of arrests and convictions in Minnesota, as well as charges of assault and theft in Illinois, the Star Tribune reported. The criminal complaint indicates he had an outstanding warrant for assault in Illinois.  Judges have repeatedly ordered him to undergo mental health treatment, as well as to abstain from alcohol and drugs, the newspaper reported.  Prosecutors are taking Aranda’s latest Mall of America attack very seriously.  “The state intends to pursue an aggravated sentence based on particular cruelty to the victim, particular vulnerability of the victim and the commission of the act in the presence of other children and the victim’s mother,” the criminal complaint says.  The Mall of America website states that the facility “holds itself to the highest standards” when it comes to its security. It has 175 security officers on the payroll.  “We pride ourselves on our high caliber officers, training and forward-thinking attitude,” the webpage reads. “We take a holistic approach with our industry leading programs and practices which include bike patrol, K-9 units, special operations plain clothes officers, a state-of-the art dispatch center, parental escort policy, crisis planning and lockdown drills. “We are a unique property and we protect it as such.”
  • In a series of interviews Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stood by her 2017 comments around the dismissal of FBI director James Comey despite telling special counsel Robert Mueller that her statements were made “’in the heat of the moment’” and “not founded on anything.” >> Read more trending news During a news conference after Comey’s abrupt firing in May 2017, Huckabee Sanders told reporters the White House had “heard from countless members of the FBI” who had lost confidence in Comey. However, Mueller’s team found, “The evidence does not support those claims,” according to the special counsel’s report. >> Mueller report: Key findings from the investigation “Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue,’” investigators said in the Mueller report, which was redacted and released Thursday by U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Huckabee Sanders disputed the special counsel’s interpretation of her comments in an interview Friday with “CBS This Morning,” telling morning show anchors that she only meant to say the word “countless” was a slip of the tongue. >> Mueller investigation: Read the report “The big takeaway here is that the sentiment is 100 percent accurate,” Huckabee Sanders said. “The FBI is a better place without James Comey.” In an interview with “Good Morning America,” Huckabee Sanders insisted “there were a number of FBI, both former (and) current), that agreed with the president’s decision.” >> Mueller investigation: House committee subpoenas full report “I said that the word I used, countless … If you look (at) what’s in quotations from me, it’s that and it was ‘in the heat of the moment,’ meaning that it wasn’t a scripted talking point,” she said. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t a robot like the Democratic Party.” Despite her insistence that her comments about FBI support for Comey’s dismissal were “in the heat of the moment,” Politico noted she told reporters similar things on at least one other occasion, one day after making her initial comment about “countless members of the FBI.” “I can speak to my own personal experience,” she said in 2017, according to Politico. “I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision.”

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