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Sri Lanka: Death toll rises to 359, 45 children confirmed dead

By
Darryl Coote
UNICEF has confirmed that 45 children died in the blasts at Sri Lankan churches and hotels. Photo by Perera Sameera/UPI
UNICEF has confirmed that 45 children died in the blasts at Sri Lankan churches and hotels. Photo by Perera Sameera/UPI | License Photo

April 24 (UPI) -- The death toll rose to 359 Wednesday as more people injured in Easter Sunday's suicide attacks in Sri Lanka succumbed to their injuries, police said.

Of the casualties, 45 were children, the United Nations Children's Fund said Tuesday, adding that five were of foreign nationals.

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"We now know that 45 children -- both Sri Lankan and other nationalities -- have been killed, with scores more injured and fighting for their lives in intensive care units across the country," UNICEF said in a statement. "Many children have lost one or both parents, and countless children have witnessed shocking and senseless violence."

The death toll had been raised to 321 on Tuesday morning as almost two dozen died between then and day before due to injuries from the bombings.

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On Sunday, coordinated blasts ripped through three churches and three high-end hotels throughout the country in an attack that the Islamic State has since claimed responsibility for in retaliation for the attack on two mosques by a single gunman in New Zealand in March.

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In an emailed statement, UNICEF said 27 children were killed and 10 were injured at St. Sebastian's Church in the Katuwapitiya district of Negombo city and 13 children, the youngest an 18-month-old child, were killed in the blast at the Protestant Zion Church in Batticaloa.

An additional 20 children were admitted to the hospital with four of them in intensive care as a result of the attacks on hotels and St. Anthony's Shrine in the capital city of Colombo.

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In an address to the nation Tuesday, President Maithripala Sirisena said the police, armed forces and security forces would be resurrected within a week while the heads of security forces would be removed within 24 hours.

Following the attacks, the Sri Lankan government and security forces have come under criticism as a three-page intelligence report surfaced and spread through social networking services showed that officials had warning of the coming attacks and identified by name several members of a local terror cell, including its supposed leader.

He also said in the special address that action needs to be taken to assign legal authority to the security forces in order to prevent terrorism while vowing to hold those responsible to account.

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Meanwhile, New Zealand said that it is skeptical of the Sri Lankan claim that the Easter attacks were connected to the shooting on two mosques in Christchurch that resulted in 50 people dead on March 15.

"We understand the Sri Lankan investigation into the attack is in its early stages," a spokesperson for New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement. "New Zealand has not yet seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based."

Police also said curfew would be imposed for a third night from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

During the night Tuesday while police conducted search operations, 18 people were arrested on suspicion of having connections to the bombings, police said.

Six suspects were arrested in Aluthgama, five suspects were arrested in Beruwala and six suspects were arrested in Katuwapitiya, all of which are within 50 miles of Colombo.

This brings the arrest totals to about 60, following 40 people arrested the night following the attack.

Military and police forces were given the ability to detain and interrogate potential suspects without a court order following the government having declared a state of emergency, which went into effect Monday.

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Sri Lanka'a Parliament was to have a debate Wednesday over the president's proclamation of the emergency.

Meanwhile, the U.S embassy in Colombo said Wednesday it would be closed to the public until April 26 without further explanation.

"The U.S. embassy in Sri Lank and all U.S. campuses will be closed for public use until April 26," it said on Twitter. "Emergency U.S. citizen services will take place. Be very cautious. No change in travel advice."

On Sunday, the embassy raised the travel advisory for the country to Level 2, meaning exercise increased caution.

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