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We had intel that could have stopped attacks - Sri Lanka PM

23 April

The Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka that killed at least 321 people could have been prevented if key intelligence had been passed on correctly, the prime minister has admitted.

Eight Britons were among those who died in a series of blasts across the country targeting churches and hotels, with more than 500 people in total left injured.
Police have been investigating whether warnings of attacks were ignored or missed before the violence began, and now Ranil Wickremesinghe has confirmed there was a "breakdown of communication".
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, the prime minister said: "We could have prevented these attacks - or at least reduced the number of attacks."
He added that had vital information been correctly given to the relevant authorities, including himself, anti-terror measures could have kicked into gear "much faster".
Mr Wickremesinghe said an investigation had been opened into why the intelligence never reached him and that the heads of defence would be replaced "within the next 24 hours", with a complete restructuring of the police and security forces to follow "in the coming weeks".
His update came on what was a national day of mourning in Sri Lanka, with mass funerals and burials taking place in the capital Colombo and coastal city Negombo, which were among the locations struck.
He said investigators were making "good progress" in identifying who carried out the attacks, with Britain and the FBI among the foreign allies providing assistance.
Islamic State (IS) has claimed that its "fighters" were responsible, but has provided no evidence.
Mr Wickremesinghe said the bombers likely had "foreign links" and that the IS claim would be looked into, but the 40 suspects arrested so far are all Sri Lankan nationals.
"Some of the suspects are on the run," the prime minister added.
"Some of those suspects are armed and dangerous. There are still explosives and militants out there and the police are looking for them."
Footage has emerged of several masked bombers appearing to be preparing for their suicidal mission and pledging their allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
One of the men in the video, seen with his face uncovered, is Sri Lankan Islamist hate preacher Zahran Hashim.
Despite the claim by IS, the Sri Lankan defence ministry believes two domestic Islamist organisations are responsible for the attacks and that they were "retaliation" against the New Zealand mosque shootings in Christchurch.
But the office of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said they have not "seen any intelligence upon which such an assessment might be based".
As the investigation and widespread mourning continues, a nationwide daily curfew remains in place from 9pm and all social media is still banned in Sri Lanka in a bid to "ease tensions".
Police and military officers have also been granted emergency powers by the government to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has sent specialists from the Metropolitan Police to help - and they will also be tasked with efforts to repatriate deceased UK nationals.
He told MPs in the House of Commons that the attacks were "primitive and vile attempts to sow division among people of different faiths" and that "we must deny the perpetrators the satisfaction of dividing us".
Mr Hunt also announced that the Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen had been asked to deliver an independent report into what more can be done to protect persecuted Christians around the world.
Following Mr Hunt's statement in parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to her Sri Lankan counterpart on the phone to express "her deepest condolences".
"Prime Minister May offered UK support to Sri Lanka, including sending UK counter-terrorism policing experts to provide assistance to authorities in the country," said a Downing Street spokesman.
"The leaders discussed the strong connection between the UK and Sri Lanka and the need to stand together in the fight against terrorism. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe expressed his gratitude for the UK's support."
Seven Britons who died in the attacks have been named, but it is not known whether there are any among the hundreds who suffered injuries in the various explosions.
In total, the bombing victims include more than 30 foreigners from at least 12 countries, including three children of Danish billionaire and ASOS shareholder Anders Holch Povlsen.
Unicef has said 45 children are among those who died.
:: Britons in Sri Lanka who need help are urged to call the high commission in Colombo on +94 11 5390639, while people in the UK worried about friends or family should call the foreign office on 020 7008 1500.

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John Bercow urged to lift parliament ban on Donald Trump ahead of state visit

23 April

John Bercow has been urged to abandon his ban on Donald Trump addressing parliament during his UK visit.

Lord Fowler, the Conservative Party chairman and Lord Speaker, said there was a "strong case" for a speech by the US president.
He said this was because the visit from 3 June to 5 June is timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The president will attend commemorations in Portsmouth.
In a statement issued by his office, Lord Fowler, who is Mr Bercow's equivalent in the Lords, said: "No request to use Westminster Hall has so far been received. If a request is made then this would need to be considered by both the Speaker of the Commons and myself.
"We would need to discuss the request. Clearly there is a strong case for a speech by the president, particularly on such an important anniversary."
Lord Fowler's challenge to Mr Bercow's authority came as Downing Street said a decision on whether Mr Trump should address MPs and peers in parliament was a matter for the Speaker.
"It's not something over which we have control," said Theresa May's official spokesman when asked if the prime minister backed a speech by the president in parliament.
Mr Bercow effectively vetoed a formal address by Mr Trump in parliament in February 2017, shortly after the president was elected. It was "not an automatic right, it is an earned honour", he told MPs.
Referring to Mr Trump's controversial migration policy, Mr Bercow said: "Before the migrant ban, I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall.
"But after the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump, I am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall.
"I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons."
A group of Labour MPs have tabled a motion opposing an address in parliament by the US president next month.
And a former Labour minister, Lord Foulkes, has urged Lord Fowler: "Can you please join John Bercow in opposing any suggestion that Donald Trump should be invited to address both houses of parliament?
"Quite apart from the need to express concern about his racist views and misogynistic actions, I believe it would be a security risk and a logistic nightmare as well as an unnecessary expense."
Mr Bercow is himself under attack in a Commons motion, tabled by the former Conservative minister Crispin Blunt, declaring no confidence in him.
Mr Blunt wrote to all MPs asking for support, but said he would not publish the names of backers unless the number reaches 100, in order not to expose them to "retribution" by the Speaker, he said.
The motion states that is "impossible" for the Commons to sustain the belief in the impartiality of the Speaker, which is "indispensable" for its successful operation.
Mr Blunt said that Mr Bercow's decisions on Brexit had been "wholly partial" and helped contribute to "national paralysis" on the issue.

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20 Debenhams stores face new year axe under owners' plans

23 April

The new owners of Debenhams will outline plans this week to shut 20 of its stores early next year, casting a further pall over the UK's crisis-hit high streets.

Sky News has learnt that Debenhams will launch a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) in the next 48 hours that will pave the way for more than 10% of its outlets to close immediately after this year's crucial Christmas trading period.
The closures will be among approximately 50 shops that will shut ?during a three-year period, leaving roughly 110 to continue trading under the Debenhams name.
The retailer will also seek rent reductions across much of the rest of its estate as part of a long-awaited plan following its brief collapse into administration earlier this month.
An announcement is expected on Thursday.
Sources said on Tuesday that the launch of the CVA - a controversial insolvency mechanism being used by embattled retailers - would pave the way for a creditor vote next month.
They added that some of Debenhams's landlords were likely to oppose the CVA, with 75% of creditors by value required to pass the vote.
The launch of the next phase of the chain's restructuring comes days after it announced that chief executive Sergio Bucher would step down.
Well over 1,000 jobs are likely to be put at risk by the initial spate of store closures, according to analysts.
Debenhams' new owners - a group of banks and hedge funds - have appointed Stefaan Vansteenkiste, a managing director at the professional services firm Alvarez & Marsal, as its chief restructuring officer.
A financial restructuring that will convert around £100m of Debenhams's debt to new equity is also part of the new owners' plans.
Lazard, the investment bank which advised Debenhams's board in the period before it called in administrators, is expected to advise on a sale process in the near term.
The department store chain's quickfire collapse sparked a furious riposte from Mike Ashley, the boss of its biggest shareholder, Sports Direct International?.
Mr Ashley described the administration of Debenhams as "a national scandal" and called for it to be reversed.
Sports Direct had submitted a blizzard of alternative offers that it says would have enabled Debenhams to avoid its brief in?solvency.
Debenhams and KPMG, which will oversee the CVA, declined? to comment.

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Woman wakes up from coma 27 years after school bus crash

23 April

A woman who suffered a catastrophic brain injury and fell into a coma when her car collided with a school bus in the United Arab Emirates has woken up for the first time in almost three decades.

Munira Abdulla was involved in the horrific road accident in 1991, having picked up her son Omar, 4, from school in the city of Al Ain.
Omar escaped with just a bruise to his head, but his mother, who was 32 at the time, suffered such serious damage that doctors doubted she would ever open her eyes again.
Twenty-seven years on, she regained consciousness in a German hospital room and her family have now spoken for the first time about her ordeal and miraculous recovery.
Speaking to UAE newspaper The National, Omar, now 32, said: "I never gave up on her because I always had a feeling that one day she will wake up."
Ms Abdulla has been able to answer questions since waking up and has recited verses from the Quran.
She is continuing to receive treatment in Abu Dhabi, having been transferred to a number of different hospitals in various countries since the accident, including one in London.
According to The National, the family later received a state grant from the crown prince court to send her to Germany for treatment, and she was moved there in April 2017.
Her neurologist at Schoen Clinic near Munich, Dr Ahmad Ryll, told the paper of her recovery: "For years I have dreamt of this moment, and my name was the first word she said."
Ms Abdulla is said to be becoming more responsive all the time, and is now capable of communicating with friends and family "in a very reasonable manner, especially in familiar situations".
Recoveries like hers are extremely rare, with few cases of people regaining consciousness after years in a coma.
Among the most remarkable is Terry Wallis, who was 19 when a car he was travelling in plunged into a creek in southern Arkansas in July 1984.
He was left in a coma and did not wake up until June 2003 - thus missing the entire presidencies of George HW Bush and Bill Clinton.

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Change UK candidate Ali Sadjady quits after pro-Brexit, anti-Romanian tweet unearthed

23 April

Less than nine hours after announcing that he would stand in the European elections, a Change UK candidate has pulled out after an old tweet resurfaced in which he said he would back Brexit if it stopped Romanian pickpockets.

Ali Sadjady, a mixed martial arts fighter and a former Conservative who stood to be a South Acton councillor last year, was among the line-up of would-be MEPs unveiled during an event in Bristol on Tuesday.
He was shaping up to contest a London seat for the newly formed Remainer party, but it has since been confirmed that he has stood down.
The decision came after The Independent uncovered comments made by Mr Sadjady on Twitter two years ago, which saw him accused of committing "hate speech" against EU citizens.
One of his tweets from November 2017 said: "When I hear that 70% of pickpockets caught on the London Underground are Romanian it kind of makes me want Brexit."
He also dismissed those seeking a second referendum as not believing in democracy - a rather awkward stance to take considering Change UK are committed to campaigning for one.
Responding to the revelations, the party tweeted: "Following discussions, Ali Sadjady has reflected on his inappropriate tweet from 2017 and agreed to stand down from the list of potential candidates."
Mr Sadjady, who has deleted the controversial tweets, said he would continue to support the party because of its "real positivity", and was happy to stand down "so as not to tarnish their reputation".
In a statement, he said: "I apologise if I have offended with some of my past tweets, anyone that knows me, knows that they are not representative of who I am and everyday I am trying to be the best version of myself."
Change UK had picked 70 people from a mix of backgrounds to stand in the European elections on 23 May, although the government is still hoping the ballot can be avoided.
If they do go ahead, two big hitters hoping to claim a seat for the new group are Rachel Johnson and Gavin Esler, the latter saying British politics has become a "worldwide joke".
At a news conference, Sky News challenged Change UK to say what a good result would be.
MP Chris Leslie dodged the question, responding that: "Our aim is to give the public a choice to clearly and unequivocally call for a people's vote."

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