Outcry sparked by 'deeply racist' rat poem in Austria

A poem about migration titled The City Rat has drawn condemnation in Austria after it compared humans to rodents.

Christian Schilcher of the governing coalition far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) wrote the poem, which tells migrants to integrate or “quickly hurry away”.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has demanded his coalition partner distance itself from the “abominable” poem.

It was published in an FPÖ newspaper in Braunau am Inn, birthplace of Nazi Germany’s leader Adolf Hitler.

Mr Kurz told the Austrian Press Agency the poem was “disgusting, inhuman and deeply racist” and had no place in Austria.

“Just as we live down here, so must other rats,” the poem states, telling them to “share with us the way of life, or quickly hurry away” and saying that if you mix different cultures, “it’s as if you destroy them”.

Mr Schilcher – the vice-mayor of Braunau am Inn – said he did not mean to “insult or hurt anyone” with his poem.

He apologised for ignoring the “historically burdened” comparison between rats and humans, saying the poem aimed to describe changes “which myself and others quite rightly criticise” from a rat’s perspective.

Pamela Rendi-Wagner, head of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), said such comparisons were “customary in Nazi propaganda”.

But Vice-Chancellor and FPÖ head Heinz-Christian Strache wrote in a Facebook post that the “current incitement and campaign” against his party shows their competitors are “especially nervous” ahead of European Parliament elections in May.

The FPÖ has been in coalition with Mr Kurz’s conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) since 2017 and is among just a few far-right parties to have won power in the EU.

Sri Lanka attacks: Authorities face scrutiny over advance warnings

Scrutiny fell on rifts in Sri Lanka’s leadership on Monday after it emerged that authorities were warned about the group accused in Sunday’s bombings.

Attacks on churches and hotels killed 290 people and wounded nearly 500.

Security agencies had been watching the National Thowheed Jamath jihadist group, reports said, and had notified police about a possible attack.

But the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the cabinet were not informed, ministers said.

A ‘colossal intelligence failure’

The prime minister was not privy to security briefings following a rift last year with President Maithripala Sirisena, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told a press conference.

Mr Sirisena sacked Mr Wickremesinghe and his cabinet in October and tried to install another prime minister, prompting a full-blown constitutional crisis.

He was forced to reinstate Mr Wickremesinghe under pressure from the nation’s supreme court, but apparently kept the prime minister from security briefings.

Mr Senaratne said intelligence agencies had begun issuing warnings about the group on 4 April, after which the defence ministry sent a detailed warning to the chief of police; and on 11 April a memo was sent to the heads of several security divisions.

He said information passed to police included a warning from a foreign intelligence agency about possible attacks by the group, as well as names of members.

US media quote Sri Lankan officials as saying both Indian and US intelligence had warned the country about a threat in early April.

It was not clear on Monday whether Mr Sirisena had been made aware of the warnings. “Our understanding is that it was correctly circulated among security and police,” Shiral Lakthilaka, a senior adviser to Mr Sirisena, told the BBC.

He said that the president had appointed a special committee led by a supreme court judge to investigate what had happened.

Rauff Hakeem, the minister for town planning, called the attacks a “colossal failure of intelligence”.

“It is shameful for all of us. We are all ashamed of this,” he said.

Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando tweeted: “Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence. Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.”

What steps has the government taken?

Sri Lankan authorities declared a state of emergency which came into effect at midnight (18:30 GMT) on Monday.

The declaration gives police and the military sweeping powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders – powers that were last used during the nation’s civil war.

A curfew also came into effect at 20:00, leaving armed security forces patrolling largely deserted streets in Colombo on Monday night.

The government blocked access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram after the blasts.

Police arrested 24 suspects in a series of raids just hours after the attacks, and later said 87 bomb detonators had been found at the Bastian Mawatha private bus station in Petta.

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On Monday, another blast rocked a street in the capital, Colombo, when a bomb went off while police attempted to defuse it, although no-one was hurt.

How did the attacks unfold?

The first reports of explosions came at about 08:45 local time on Sunday with six blasts reported within a small space of time.

Three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo’s Kochchikade district were targeted during Easter services. Blasts also rocked the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the country’s capital.

Police did not release a breakdown of how many people were killed and wounded at each location.

All the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, officials said.

Police then carried out raids on two addresses and there were explosions at both.

One was in Dehiwala, southern Colombo, and the other was near the Colombo district of Dematagoda, where three officers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a device.

An improvised explosive device – a 6ft-long [1.8m] plastic pipe packed with explosives – was also found and defused near the airport in Colombo.

What do we know about the attackers?

National Thowheed Jamath has been named by a government spokesman as the main suspect.

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The group has no history of large-scale attacks but came to prominence last year when it was blamed for damaging Buddhist statues.

Who were the victims?

Most of those who died were Sri Lankan nationals, including scores of Christians attending Easter Sunday church services.

The ministry of foreign affairs said it had identified 31 foreign nationals among the dead, with 14 unaccounted for. The death toll included at least eight British citizens and at least eight citizens of India.

They include three of the children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, a family spokesman confirmed to the BBC. Mr Povlsen owns the Bestseller clothing chain and holds a majority stake in clothing giant Asos.

British lawyer Anita Nicholson died alongside her two children, Alex, 14, and Annabel, 11, when a suicide bomber detonated a device in the breakfast queue at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.

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Her husband, Ben Nicholson, survived and praised his “wonderful, perfect wife” and “amazing, intelligent” children.

Who are the victims?

Sri Lanka is in shock after a wave of bombings targeting churches and hotels left 290 people dead. Churches were hit during Easter services on Sunday in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa.

Most of those killed are thought to be Sri Lankan nationals but officials say dozens of foreigners are among the dead including British, Indian, Danish and Chinese nationals.

The government temporarily restricted some social media networks to try and halt the spread of misinformation, so details have been slow to emerge. But this is what we know so far about those who lost their lives.

Shantha Mayadunne, a Sri Lankan celebrity chef, and her daughter Nisanga

One of the first victims to have been identified last night was Sri Lankan celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne.

Her daughter Nisanga Mayadunne had posted a picture of the family having breakfast in the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo shortly before an explosion occurred there.

One of their family members later posted on Facebook confirming that both Shantha and Nisanga had died, saying “no words can describe the pain”.

Four servers at the Cinnamon Grand hotel

Four Sri Lankan staff members at the Taprobane restaurant in the Cinnamon Grand hotel have died in the attacks.

“It was a busy morning. It’s Sunday morning during buffet breakfast so it’s one of our busiest periods,” the Cinnamon Grand hotel spokesman told the BBC.

“They were servers at the restaurant. One of them was working at the live food stations making hoppers [a Sri Lankan pancake].”

They have been identified only as Shantha, Sanjeewani, Ibrahim and Nisthar.

Three staff members at the Shangri-La

The Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo announced in a Facebook statement that three of its staff were “fatally injured in the course of their duties”.

No further details are known so far.

ASOS billionaire’s children

Three children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen died in the attacks, a spokesman has confirmed to the BBC. The company was unable to reveal any more details at this time and asked for the family’s privacy to be respected.

One of his children had four days ago posted a picture on Instagram that was geo-tagged Sri Lanka.

Mr Povlsen, 46, owns the Bestseller clothing chain and is the largest stakeholder in the hugely popular online retailer ASOS.

Eight British nationals

The deaths were confirmed by the UK’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, James Dauris.

It is believed that among the victims were Anita Nicholson, 42, her 11-year-old son Alex and her younger daughter Annabel.

They were reported to have been at Colombo’s Shangri-La hotel. Mrs Nicholson’s husband Ben is believed to have survived.

Rasina, 58, from the Indian state of Kerala

According to local media outlets, Rasina, whose name has also been spelt by other outlets as Razeena – originally from Kerala – lived in Dubai with her husband but travelled to Colombo to meet her relatives.

The 58-year-old had been in the Sri Lankan capital with her husband. He left for Dubai on Sunday morning and she was due to leave Colombo on a later flight on the same day.

But she was killed shortly after checking out of the Shangri-La hotel.

“Her life was just snubbed out in a few hours,” her brother-in-law Usman Kukkady told news outlet the New Indian Express.

The couple have a son and daughter who are both living in the US, said the news outlet.

Seven Indians, including four from a political party

Seven Indian nationals, four of whom were political party workers from Bangalore, died in the bombings.

Two of the victims were identified by city officials as K G Hanumantharayappa and M Rangappa. They were said to be members of the Janata Dal Party (JDP).

The chief minister of the Indian state of Karnataka said in a tweet that he had known both members personally, adding that he was “deeply shocked”.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also identified three other victims as Lakshmi, Narayan Chandrashekhar and Ramesh, and the Indian High Commission tweeted the names of two more victims: Vemurai Tulsiram and S R Nagaraj. One victim’s brother-in-law identified them as Shivanna.

The JDP workers had decided to take a holiday in Sri Lanka after polling for the Lok Sabha elections ended in the state on 18 April.

“They reached the hotel around 08:00 or so and headed straight to the breakfast table when they were killed,” S. Shivakumar, Shivanna’s brother-in-law, told BBC Hindi’s Imran Qureshi.

Turkish engineers Serhan Selcuk Narici and Yigit Ali Cavus

Two Turkish nationals were killed, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Engineer Serhan Selcuk Narici moved to Colombo in March 2017, according to his Facebook profile.

His father, Baba Memhet Narici, told Anadolu that his son was an electrical engineer. He had last been doing some work at the US embassy building in Sri Lanka.

“He sent me a WhatsApp message this morning at 5am saying ‘Good Morning'”, said Mr Narici. “That was the last I heard from him.”

The other victim – Yigit Ali Cavus – was also an engineer.

“He was a brilliant child. He graduated with honours from the Istanbul Technical University and spoke two languages,” said his father.

It is not yet clear where they were when the attacks took place.

Two Australians from one family

Two Australians were killed in the attacks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed.

They were members of the same family who were living in Sri Lanka, he said. There are no further details at this point.

Two other Australian nationals were injured in the attacks, Mr Morrison also said.

The grandson of a Bangladeshi politician

The grandson of Bangladeshi MP Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim has been killed in the attacks.

Mr Selim’s grandson – who is himself a prominent member of the Awami League political party – died in an explosion in the hotel where the family was staying, according to local media reports. It is not clear which hotel this was.

Mr Selim’s personal assistant told news outlet the Dhaka Tribune that the boy’s father was also injured in the blast.

Rui Lucas, Portuguese electrical engineer

Rui Lucas was on honeymoon with his wife, Portuguese media report. They had been married just over a week.

Mr Lucas, believed to be in his early 30s, died in the attack on the Kingsbury Hotel, where the newlyweds were staying. His wife survived the attack.

He has been described by one of his work colleagues as “a person with a huge heart, a great friend”, Portugal’s publico.pt website reports.

Dieter Kowalski from the US state of Colorado

Forty-year-old Dieter Kowalski, a Denver resident, was in Sri Lanka on a work trip. On Friday, he had posted on Facebook: “And the fun begins. Love these work trips. 24 hours of flying. See you soon Sri Lanka!”

Mr Kowalski worked for Pearson, an education management company, as a senior technical operations lead. The company confirmed to NBC News on Monday that Mr Kowalski had been killed shortly after he arrived at the Cinnamon Grand hotel.

“Colleagues who knew Dieter well talk about how much fun he was to be around, how big-hearted and full-spirited he was,” Pearson chief executive John Fallon wrote in a letter to employees.

Mr Kowalski’s brother, Derrick, also shared on Facebook: “We have all lost a brother today.”

Sri Lanka attacks: 'International network' linked to bombings

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A wave of bombings that killed 290 people in Sri Lanka on Sunday was carried out with the support of an international network, officials said.

The government has blamed a little-known local jihadist group, National Thowheed Jamath, although no-one has yet admitted carrying out the bombings.

Another 500 people were injured in the suicide attacks on churches and hotels.

Police arrested 24 people in a series of raids and the president’s office declared a state of national emergency.

The emergency declaration, which comes into effect from midnight (18:30 GMT) on Monday, will give police and military extensive powers to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.

On Monday, another blast rocked a street near a church in the capital, Colombo. Police were attempting to defuse explosives in a vehicle used by the attackers when it blew up. It is not yet known if anyone was hurt.

Sri Lankan authorities were warned about a bomb threat from National Thowheed Jamath a full two weeks before the attacks, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said at a press conference.

He said that the warnings were not passed on to the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, or his cabinet. Mr Wickremesinghe acknowledged that security services had been “aware of information” but had not acted on the information.

Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando told the BBC that the intelligence “never indicated it was going to be an attack of this magnitude”.

“They were talking about isolated, one or two incidents. Not like this,” he said.

He said “all important departments of the police” were informed about the warning, but acknowledged that no action was taken.

Suspicion of international support

Mr Senaratne said that authorities believed the bombers had international support. “We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” he said, adding: “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

A later statement said President Maithripala Sirisena would ask for foreign help to track down the international links to the attackers.

“The intelligence reports [indicate] that foreign terrorist organisations are behind the local terrorists. Therefore, the president is to seek the assistance of the foreign countries,” his office said.

A curfew is to be imposed from 20:00 (14:30 GMT) until 04:00 on Tuesday, the government said. A national day of mourning has been scheduled for Tuesday.

Sri Lanka’s National Security Council said a “conditional state of emergency” from midnight would target “terrorism” and would not limit freedom of expression.

In another development, the US State Department issued revised travel advice urging greater caution, adding, “Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka.”

How did the attacks unfold?

The first reports of explosions came at about 08:45 local time with six blasts reported within a small space of time.

Three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo’s Kochchikade district were targeted during Easter services. Blasts also rocked the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the country’s capital.

Police did not release a breakdown of how many people were killed and wounded at each location.

All the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, officials said.

Police then carried out raids on two addresses and there were explosions at both. One was in Dehiwala, southern Colombo, and the other was near the Colombo district of Dematagoda in which three officers were killed.

An improvised explosive device – a 6ft-long [1.8m] plastic pipe packed with explosives – was also found and defused near the airport in Colombo.

Police also recovered 87 low-explosive detonators from the Bastian Mawatha private bus station in Pettah, our correspondent reports.

What do we know about the attackers?

There was swirling speculation about who could be behind the attacks and the government restricted access to social media in the aftermath of the bombings.

National Thowheed Jamath was later named by a government spokesman as the main suspect.

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The group has no history of large-scale attacks but came to prominence last year when it was blamed for damaging Buddhist statues.

Addressing reports that officials had had prior intelligence of forthcoming attacks, Mr Wickremesinghe said: “We must look into why adequate precautions were not taken. Neither I nor the ministers were kept informed.”


A deep wound to the nation

Anbarasan Ethirajan, BBC News, Colombo

Very few here expected these massive attacks. The co-ordination, sophistication and timing may indicate international support, but it is not clear yet if National Thowheed Jamath, if it is indeed responsible, has links with global jihadist groups.

It is thought that some Muslim youths in Sri Lanka were radicalised after clashes last year in Kandy district between the majority Sinhala Buddhists and Muslims. Videos posted on social media showed hardline Islamists and Sinhala hardliners promoting hatred. But why were the Christians targeted? They are also a minority in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Muslims are baffled by the attacks, as well as nervous and afraid.

Sri Lanka has experience of such attacks – suicide bombers were used by Tamil Tiger rebels during the civil war. But the ruthlessness of the these new atrocities is a shock, and the number of dead is a deep wound to the nation, a wound that will take much time to heal.


Who are the victims?

The vast majority of those killed are thought to be Sri Lankan nationals, including scores of Christians who died at Easter church services.

The ministry of foreign affairs says it believes 35 foreign nationals are among the dead.

They include three of the children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, a family spokesman confirmed to the BBC. Mr Povlsen owns the Bestseller clothing chain and holds a majority stake in clothing giant Asos.

Other international victims include:

  • At least eight British citizens – including two with joint US citizenship
  • One Portuguese citizen and eight Indian nationals
  • Two engineers from Turkey, according to Turkish news agency Anadolu
  • Two Chinese nationals, according to the China Daily
  • Two Australians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said
  • One person from the Netherlands
  • One person from Japan, according to Japanese media citing government sources

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What is Sri Lanka’s recent history?

Sunday’s attacks were the deadliest in Sri Lanka since the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.

The war ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, who had fought for 26 years for an independent homeland for the minority ethnic Tamils.

Between 70,000 and 80,000 people are believed to have died in the conflict.

The nation has seen some sporadic violence since. In March 2018 a state of emergency was declared after members of the majority Buddhist Sinhala community attacked mosques and Muslim-owned properties.

Religion in Sri Lanka

Theravada Buddhism is Sri Lanka’s biggest religious group, making up about 70.2% of the population, according to the most recent census.

It is the religion of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority and is given primary place in the country’s laws.

Hindus and Muslims make up 12.6% and 9.7% of the population respectively.

Sri Lanka is also home to about 1.5 million Christians, according to the 2012 census, the vast majority of them Roman Catholic.


Violent protests erupt at Georgia's Pankisi Gorge

In Georgia’s north-eastern Pankisi Gorge, the mostly-Muslim residents have clashed with police over plans to build a new hydroelectric dam.

Locals believe the plans will damage the gorge, and are set against it. Dozens of people – mostly police officers – have been injured.

The region is known internationally as the home of one of the top commanders of the Islamic State group.

Three of tycoon's children killed

Three of the four children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen died in the Sri Lanka bombing attacks, a spokesman has confirmed to the BBC.

The family were visiting the country over the Easter holiday. The names of the children have not been made public.

Mr Holch Povlsen owns the international clothing chain Bestseller.

He is also the biggest single shareholder in clothing giant Asos and is the UK’s largest private landowner, according to the Times newspaper.

“Unfortunately, we can confirm the reports,” a Bestseller spokesman said in an email. “We ask you to respect the privacy of the family and we therefore have no further comments.”

Mr Holch Povlsen has a large property portfolio in Scotland, where he owns about a dozen estates including Aldourie Castle. He bought them through his company Wildland, which describes itself as a “landscape-scale” conservation project.

“It is a project that we know cannot be realised in our lifetime, which will bear fruit not just for our own children, but also for the generations of visitors who, like us, hold a deep affection the Scottish Highlands,” Mr Holch Povlsen and his wife Anne say on the website.

“We wish to restore our parts of the Highlands to their former magnificent natural state and repair the harm that man has inflicted on them.”

Victims unidentified

The death toll in the Sri Lanka attacks is now at 290, following a series of blasts at churches and luxury hotels on Sunday. Police have arrested 24 people, but no-one has claimed responsibility.

The vast majority of those killed are thought to be Sri Lankan nationals, including many Christians who died at Easter services.

Authorities say they believe 36 foreign nationals are among the dead, with most still unidentified at a Colombo mortuary.

The international victims include:

  • At least eight British citizens – including two with joint US citizenship
  • Three Danish citizens
  • One Portuguese citizen and six Indian nationals
  • Two engineers from Turkey, according to Turkish news agency Anadolu
  • Two Chinese nationals, according to the China Daily
  • Two Australians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said
  • One person from the Netherlands
  • One person from Japan, according to Japanese media citing government sources