“But the main reason we are here is that we want to say a special prayer for the victims of the church bombings.”
The government has urged national unity and warned against a backlash but a group of Ahmadi Muslim refugees in Negombo, the site of one of the attacked churches, has fled their homes after facing intimidation, activists said.
Dozens of foreigners died the attacks and the government said it expected the number of overseas tourists to fall by 30 percent this year which would cost $1.5 billion in revenues.
Samaraweera said the country could take up to two years to fully recover.
Tourism is a foundation of the Sri Lankan economy which suffered last year from a three-month-long political crisis between the president and prime minister.
Several countries, including Israel, Australia and Britain, have warned their citizens against visiting Sri Lanka because of the attacks.
Authorities reduced the death toll from 360 dead to 253, blaming badly mutilated bodies that were double counted.
Health Ministry director-general Anil Jasinghe said the “very complex nature of the human remains” had made it hard for forensic experts to initially compile an accurate toll. He said staff had carried out a “grim task”.
The senior pastor and general overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to revive education system and human capital development in Nigeria.
In an exclusive chat with Channels Television on the Easter celebrations, the clergyman also charged President Buhari to ensure he appoints the best hands in order to succeed in his second term of office.
“We have neglected the greatest asset of any nation, human capital. Our educational system has gone down the drain; we need to revive all that. Our universities are glorified secondary schools; let us solidify the ones we have. It’s okay to start a university, but let us maintain a standard.
“It is in our interest to ensure that there is a future for our children, ensure good health care delivery, and ensure transportation system that is flawless. There are so many assets in this country and I pray President Buhari would do his best in the second term to appoint the best, brightest and fittest, so we would see Nigeria turn around as we maximise the potentials of the nation.”
Pastor Bakare explained that the effects of failing to provide jobs and education lead to insecurity.
“Insecurity is not new; we are being invaded from outside and from within. What do you think will happen to millions of jobless youths who have no way of providing themselves? We need to create more jobs.”
It is Easter Sunday, the Christian festival celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
Also known as Resurrection Sunday, it is described in the Holy Scriptures as having occurred on the third day after Christ’s death by crucifixion on a Roman cross at Calvary.
Easter is regarded by many as the foundation of the Christian faith, with Christ’s resurrection signifying his victory over death, the triumph of good over evil, and the completion of God’s salvation of mankind.
The governor reminded the people of the importance of the occasion to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as an outstanding festival in the Christian calendar.
He noted that it was an occasion for the people of Taraba to resolve to “work much harder” for peace and unity among themselves.
“Easter reminds us of the great sacrifice through the death of Jesus Christ and whose triumph over death through His resurrection has made salvation free for mankind,” the governor said.
He urged all Christians to use the occasion to reflect on the life and times of Jesus Christ, particularly his spirit of forgiveness and empathy which saw him healing the sick, helping the poor, and preaching peace among humanity.
Governor Ishaku added, “We all – Christians, Muslims and traditional religious adherents – must work together to achieve peace for the benefit of all.
“I congratulate all Christians on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and wish them a happy Easter celebration.”
World leaders have condemned a series of blasts in Sri Lanka that killed more than 150 people on Sunday, including dozens of foreigners — with British, Dutch and American citizens believed to be among them.
Hospital sources also said Japanese citizens were among those injured by the bombs which ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services.
Here is a summary of the reactions:
Britain: ‘Stand together’
British Prime Minister Theresa May described the attacks as “truly appalling”.
“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 tweeted.
“We must stand together to make sure that no one should ever have to practise their faith in fear.”
The Netherlands: ‘Terrible reports’
“Terrible reports from Sri Lanka about bloody attacks on hotels and churches on this Easter Sunday,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted after the attacks first emerged.
“Thoughts are with the victims and their relatives.”
Australia: ‘Terrorist attack’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was thinking of those killed in a “horrific terrorist attack”.
“To the beautiful people of Sri Lanka, Australia sends its heartfelt sympathies and our prayers and our support — and our offer to do whatever we can to support you in this terrible time of need,” he said in a statement.
“At this time as Easter Sunday draws to a conclusion here in Australia, our heart goes out to those Christians and all of those other innocents who have been slaughtered today in this horrific terrorist attack.”
New Zealand: ‘Devastating’
A month after dozens of Muslims were killed in a shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the attack as “devastating”.
“New Zealand condemns all acts of terrorism, and our resolve has only been strengthened by the attack on our soil on the 15th of March. To see an attack in Sri Lanka while people were in churches and at hotels is devastating.
“New Zealand rejects all forms of extremism and stands for freedom of religion and the right to worship safely. Collectively we must find the will and the answers to end such violence.”
Catholic Church in Holy Land: ‘Solidarity’
The Catholic Church in Jerusalem said the blasts were particularly sad as they “came while Christians celebrate Easter”.
“We pray for the souls of the victims and ask for speedy recovery of the injured, and ask God to inspire the terrorists to repent of their killing and intimidation,” the statement said.
“We also express our solidarity with Sri Lanka and all its inhabitants in their various religious and ethnic backgrounds.”
“The Easter festival, which marks the celebration of the resurrection of the Jesus Christ from the dead, offers great lessons on the inevitable victory of life over death, truth over falsehood, light over darkness, and freedom over captivity,” it said.
“Nigerians must, therefore, use this occasion to rekindle their bonds of love, unity and oneness of purpose while standing firm against oppressive forces that are using intimidation, lies, institutional manipulations, propaganda and deprivation in their desperation to divide, subjugate and ultimately subvert our will as a people.”
According to the PDP, the message of Easter amply demonstrates to the people that no matter how long evil, falsehood or darkness appears to thrive, good, truth and the light will always prevail at the end of the day.
It said it was confident that it would retrieve its mandate at the tribunal, describing it as “a pathway to national rebirth and the return of our nation to the path of unity, national cohesion and economic prosperity.”
“The PDP also calls on Nigerians to, in their usual brotherliness, use the occasion to show love to one another, particularly to victims of insurgency and bloodletting that have been ravaging our nation in the last four years,” the party added.
It prayed for the nation and wished Nigerians happy Easter celebrations.
The injured flooded into local hospitals, where officials reported hundreds of wounded were being admitted.
Police chief warning
The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear and there were no immediate claims of responsibility.
But documents seen by AFP show that Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches”.
“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” the alert said.
The NTJ is a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka that was linked last year to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.
The first blast was reported at St Anthony’s Shrine, a well-known Catholic church in the capital Colombo.
A second deadly explosion was then confirmed at St Sebastian’s, a church in the town of Negombo, north of the capital.
“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the church’s Facebook page.
Soon after, police confirmed that a third church in the town of Batticaloa had been hit, along with three high-end hotels in the capital.
Hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens were among the dead, with Britons and Japanese among those injured in the attacks.
President Maithripala Sirisena said in an address that he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm, and the prime minister was expected to speak to the media shortly.
On Twitter, Wickremesinghe wrote: “I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today.
“I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong. Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”
The hotels targeted in the attack are all popular destinations for tourists, among them the Cinnamon Grand, which is near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo.
An official at the hotel told AFP the blast there had hit the restaurant and reported at least one person had been killed.
At the Shangri-La hotel, an AFP photographer saw extensive damage on the second-floor restaurant, with windows blown out and electrical wires hanging from the ceiling.
“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.
He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St Anthony’s Shrine, where he described “horrible scenes”.
“I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners”.
“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added.
Embassies in Colombo warned their citizens to shelter in place, and Sri Lankan Airlines told customers to arrive at the airport four hours ahead of flights because of ramped-up security in the wake of the attacks.
Only around six per cent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.
There have been no attacks in Sri Lanka linked to foreign Islamist groups, despite local media reports that a 37-year-old Sri Lankan was killed in Syria in 2016 while fighting for the Islamic State group.
In January, Sri Lankan police seized a haul of explosives and detonators stashed near a wildlife sanctuary following the arrest of four men from a newly formed radical Muslim group.
The Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi, has urged Christians not to relent in prayers for the sustenance of the unity, peace and security of the country and for God to bring lasting peace to the troubled Northeastern region.
In an Easter message by the Special Adviser on Communication and Strategy, Mr Bolaji Tunji, the governor also urged Christians to imbibe the spirit of love, sacrifice and selflessness exhibited by Jesus Christ, the symbol of Easter, in their relationship with one another.
“Easter is not only about wining and dining. It is an occasion to show love to one another as exhibited by God who, out of his love for mankind, offered Jesus Christ to die for our sins to give us life more abundantly.
“We should, therefore, eschew any divisive tendency, violence and other things that are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Let us sustain our prayers for peace to continue to reign in Nigeria, particularly in the Northeast,” Ajimobi said.
The Governor expressed appreciation to the Christian faithful for their fervent prayers for the state throughout his eight-year tenure, which, he said played a key role in the restoration of peace and security, as well as his unprecedented achievements.
“Permit me to use this opportunity to thank Christians and affiliate bodies in the state for their support and prayers for our dear state in the past eight years, without which we would not have been able to achieve anything tangible.”
He asked that the people should emulate Jesus Christ, who voluntarily offered himself as a living sacrifice for the redemption of mankind.
He added, “It is both significant and sobering in the sense that it reminds us all about the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, love and compassion over hate. These were the cardinal planks of Christ’s teachings while on earth.”
According to Governor Ayade, society today lacks compassion as a way to internalise and experience the inner soul of the other person and the universe.
He, however, said there was a need to reintroduce compassion in order to save the human race.
“In line with the compassion which Christ demonstrated by laying down his life for us, we should, therefore, replicate this to all men and continue to sustain it in the years to come,” the governor noted.
He added, “We must not forget that the peace we are enjoying today in the state is due, largely, to the prayers and support of all of you.
“I urge you, in this season of Easter, to continue in this momentum by upholding the values that seek to unite us rather than those that pull us apart.”