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Sri Lanka's hotels, beaches, eateries now empty of tourists
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Sri Lanka's hotels, beaches, eateries now empty of tourists

Sri Lanka's hotels, beaches, eateries now empty of tourists
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena
In this Friday, May 10, 2019, photo, the 17th century built Dutch fort, which was a popular tourist site, stands empty in Galle, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was the Lonely Planet guide’s top travel destination for 2019, but since the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and luxury hotels, foreign tourists have fled. More than 250 people, including 45 foreigners mainly from China, India, the U.S. and the U.K., died in the Islamic State group-claimed blasts. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Sri Lanka's hotels, beaches, eateries now empty of tourists

Sipping fresh coconut water while sunbathing on deserted Hikkaduwa beach, Alexi Konchayenko, a sports trainer from Ukraine, struck a stoical note.

Bomb blasts can happen "anywhere, anytime," he said, adding that he was not afraid. "Sri Lanka is an amazing country. This is my first visit and I will tell my friends also to come."

His is a lone voice — and a lone presence. Sri Lanka was the Lonely Planet guide's top travel destination for 2019, but since the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and luxury hotels, foreign tourists have fled.

Many of those booked to come in the next few months have canceled. Hotel occupancy across the island has plummeted by 85% to 90%. The tropical beaches, restaurants and shops are empty.

The coordinated suicide bombings on April 21 not only destroyed lives but also wiped out the livelihoods of Sri Lankans who depend on tourism.

More than 250 people, including 45 foreigners mainly from China, India, the U.S. and the U.K., died in the Islamic State group-claimed blasts.

Tourists normally come to Hikkaduwa, in the southwest, for the strong waves that are perfect for surfing and sparkling clear waters made for snorkeling. Today, of the 27 hotels, very few are open. Most, along with the eateries that line the 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) stretch of palm-fringed beach, are closed.

Among the few hotels still open is Hikkaduwa Beach Hotel. On April 21, all 50 rooms were occupied; today, only a handful. "It's a real disaster. We don't know what to do right now," said Sanjeewani Yogarajah, an executive with the hotel. She said the attack has cost the hotel 5.5 million Sri Lankan rupees ($31,000), forcing the hotel's management to send half the staff home.

Some tourism officials say the damage to the industry after the bombings is worse than during the 26-year civil war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the government which ended a decade ago. At least then, the violence was mostly contained to the north of Sri Lanka, they said. This time, no part of the island has remained untouched by the blasts.

Lankesha Ponnamperuma, general manager of hotel chain Hikka Tranz, is one of the luckier ones. While most hotels report wholesale cancellations, he is surviving thanks to business from local residents. Last Friday, two-thirds of the 150 rooms were booked, mostly by domestic tourists.

"I haven't sacked anyone yet. Instead, we are training our people to adjust their expenditure and helping them restructure their bank loans," Ponnamperuma said.

The president of Sri Lanka's Hotels Association, Sanath Ukwatta, said hotels have offered 30-50% discounts to entice local residents.

Such a strategy won't solve the problem, he said, but will "help at least to keep the hotels going."

The manager of a clothing shop said the owner had shut the group's other two shops and the factory too. "Business collapsed after April 21," said Kumari, who declined to give her surname.

According to government figures, there has been an 80% drop in arrivals since the attack. Tourism accounts for 4.9% of Sri Lanka's GDP. Last year, 2.3 million tourists visited the island, generating $4.4 billion in revenues, a nearly 12% jump from 2017. Around half a million Sri Lankans directly depend on tourism while 2 million depend on it indirectly.

One of them is Mohomed Musflick, the owner of a souvenir shop in Galle which is full of wood carvings, local paintings and postcards. "I have not sold one item. There are no tourists and we are in a huge crisis," he said.

While life is gradually returning to normal on the island with offices and schools re-opening, the tourism industry is in a somber mood over the slump in foreign tourists. Tour operators from Russia, Norway and Britain have canceled bookings going right up to April 2020.

A travel ban issued by nearly a dozen countries is the greatest cause for concern. "The ban is our main worry. Until it is removed or softened, we can't start our marketing to attract tourists. If it is lifted soon, we are hopeful we can bounce back this year or otherwise definitely next year for sure," said Yogarajah.

In the meantime, Sri Lanka's government should target "people and countries resilient to this kind of attacks and situations, such as Russia, Israel and India," said Anusha Frydman, managing director of the Lavanga Resort and Spa.

The industry is clear about what else it wants from the authorities: Ensure that stringent security measures are in place to reassure potential visitors; persuade politicians to put their differences aside and adopt a bipartisan approach on national security; and work fast to get the travel ban lifted.

To help the industry cope, the government has put together a relief package comprising easy loans at special rates and reduced taxes. The government also plans to formulate a $100 million insurance fund for compensation to any tourist injured or killed while visiting the island.

"In the past we have had many serious crises and we have recovered. I am quite positive we can do it again," said Jan van Twest, general manager of the Fortress Resort and Spa near Galle, where 750 room nights have been canceled from May to October.

"But we need to recover, recover very fast," he said.

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The complex still stands on Raintree Way in Roswell, but is now known as River Crossing at Roswell, according to the Roswell Police Department.  >> Read more trending news Joshua’s family had moved to the apartment complex about three weeks before he was killed, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the day his body was found. Police officials initially thought he might have run away, even unwittingly, and was trying to get back to their former home.  A newspaper clipping shows Joshua’s mother, then known as Cherie Laws, told a reporter her son, a special education student at the now-shuttered Kimball Bridge Elementary School, was not one to wander from home. “He was easily frightened and intimidated,” Laws said of Joshua, who had a learning disability.  Douglas Laws echoed his wife’s sentiments just hours before his stepson’s body was found.  “Joshua was too frightened of everything, too dependent on his mother to be away from her long,” Douglas Laws told the newspaper. “He would not leave in any stressful situation.” Joshua had spent the day of his disappearance playing outside, both alone and with friends, police officials said.  “Joshua regularly played outside in the area of his apartment building and the other buildings in the immediate vicinity,” a post on the department’s Facebook page read. “He searched for turtles around the lake in the complex and played in the ‘fort’ in the woods behind his building.” Cherie Laws told the Journal-Constitution she first grew uneasy when, around 7 p.m. that evening, she heard the ice cream truck’s bell ringing outside, but her son never came running in for the dollar she had set aside for him to get himself a treat.  “I wondered then why he didn’t come in and ask for money to buy ice cream,” Laws said, according to the clipping.  Douglas Laws also could not find the boy when he went out to tell him to stay close to home because dinner would be ready soon, police officials said. The couple called police around 7:30 p.m. to report him missing. Neighbors told Joshua’s family he had stopped by their apartment around 7 p.m. to see if their son, a friend of his, could come outside to play, according to police. Because the boy’s family was having their own dinner, he could not.  Joshua told his friend he would wait for him at the fort, where they often played together.  “This is the last reported sighting of Joshua alive,” the police’s Facebook post read. Roswell police officers spent the next 48 hours searching the 60 acres of woods surrounding the apartment complex but did not find Joshua’s body in the first search, the Journal-Constitution reported at the time. His body was eventually discovered the afternoon of May 17, 1988, in a gully in the woods where the boy, described as a “nature nut,” loved to play.  See images of newspaper clippings covering the 1988 death of Joshua Harmon below. 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  • A married Georgia police officer appeared in court with black eyes last week for his first court appearance in the homicide of his girlfriend, a paramedic who was found shot to death May 11 in her home.  William Leonard Talley, 51, is charged with murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and a violation of his oath as a public officer, according to Muscogee County Jail records. A judge on Saturday ordered Talley, a sergeant with the Columbus Police Department, be held without bond on the murder charge.  Talley, a married father of two teenage daughters, is accused of shooting Kelly Susanne Levinsohn, 44, inside her home. He was arrested in neighboring Harris County after crashing Levinsohn’s truck on Interstate 185, The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported.  >> Read more trending news The longtime police officer, who was left in critical condition in the crash, was hospitalized at Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital for five days before being released Thursday and booked into the jail.  His attorney, Jennifer Curry, told the Ledger-Enquirer that Talley is being housed away from the general population while he continues to recover from his injuries. Curry said Talley, a police officer since 2002, would be at risk among fellow inmates he helped put behind bars.  Curry on Saturday waived her client’s preliminary hearing and entered a not guilty verdict on his behalf.  “Our goal today really was to protect families on both sides, especially Mr. Talley’s children,” Curry told the newspaper. “They didn’t ask for this, so I’m trying to respect their privacy.” Talley’s wife was among the scant number of people in the courtroom Saturday. Despite his marital status, Columbus police officials have characterized Levinsohn’s death as the result of a domestic situation. They have not confirmed a romantic relationship between her and her alleged killer, though some of Levinsohn’s neighbors told WTVM in Columbus that the pair had been dating for more than a year.  Curry declined to comment Saturday on the nature of her client’s relationship with Levinsohn, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.  “Again, my goal today was to protect his two daughters,” Curry said. “I’m hoping that both families have time to understand what happened and come to terms with where we’re at now.” Columbus police officials said officers were called to Levinsohn’s home around 8 p.m. Saturday by an unidentified caller who told 911 dispatchers someone had been injured or killed in the home. The caller identified the suspect in the slaying as an officer with the department.  The caller met officers at Levinsohn’s home and told them the suspect had been in a car crash in Harris County, the Ledger-Enquirer reported. Officers went inside the home, where they found Levinsohn dead of a single gunshot wound.  They also found the paramedic’s vehicle to be missing, the newspaper said.  Columbus police Chief Ricky Boren told the Ledger-Enquirer that investigators recovered a gun believed to be the murder weapon. It was not a department-issued weapon, Boren said.  Talley, a patrol sergeant and SWAT team member, is on leave without pay pending a resolution of the case, the newspaper said.  Clark Rowell, who lives across the street from the crime scene, told WTVM his neighbor’s relationship with Talley was not always a peaceful one.  “One time, they had a bad argument out there on the front porch,” Rowell told the news station. “He went to the door, she opened it up and she wouldn’t let him in.” Rowell said after Levinsohn slammed the door on him, Talley “stomped” to his patrol car and left.  Talley’s own personnel record shows that he was also handcuffed by colleagues called to Levinsohn’s home more than a year before her slaying. Records obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer show officers were called to the scene around 7:41 p.m. March 11, 2018. Talley had been drinking, according to the report obtained by the newspaper.  “Talley had to be placed in handcuffs due to a brief struggle while officers attempted to calm him down and speak with him about his personal issues,” the report stated.  Two on-duty supervisors had to be called to Levinsohn’s home to deal with the situation. According to the Ledger-Enquirer, Talley served a single day’s suspension in September related to the incident.  He was not arrested, the newspaper said. It was his first disciplinary action in nearly a decade and his previous disciplinary issues were minor ones.  A sergeant since November 2009, Talley briefly became a detective in 2015, but transferred back to the patrol division less than a year later. Aside from the handful of disciplinary actions against him, he was given “glowing” performance evaluations, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.  Supervisors in 2017 complimented his “initiative” and recommended he try for a promotion to lieutenant.  From all accounts, Levinsohn also excelled at her job as an advanced emergency medical technician with Care Ambulance, the Ledger-Enquirer reported. Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan told the newspaper Levinsohn had been with the service for 12 years.  Bryan said her slaying came as a shock to those she worked with. “She was very dedicated to her job. It’s a hard job, both physically and mentally hard. She took it in stride, never showed any kind of negative mood towards one of the patients that she was transporting,” Bryan said. “She was always there to ease the patient’s pain and suffering, and she was just the kind of person you would want to see come to the scene to be with you.” He said Levinsohn was also a friendly face for first responders, who were often exposed to horrific situations.  “In our line of business, me as a coroner and her as an EMT, we see a lot, car accident victims, gunshot victims, stabbing victims, sick people,” Bryan said. “(Levinsohn) was a very emotionally stable person. She kept a level head the whole time, and I praised her for that quite often.” The coroner said he was taking extra care that Levinsohn’s body was treated with respect as her mother, Wylma Levinsohn, traveled home from Israel to see about burying her daughter, who friends described as her best friend.  According to Kelly Levinsohn’s obituary, her funeral was Sunday in Columbus.  Longtime friend Staci Warman described Kelly Levinsohn as a loyal friend with a smile that was “the most contagious part about her.” “She was the best friend anybody really could ever have,” said Warman, who last spoke to Levinsohn in April, the day after Levinsohn’s birthday.  At the time, Levinsohn was on a trip to Aruba with her mother, Warman said.  Kay Witt, who had known Levinsohn since her childhood, also spoke about the tropical vacation, saying that Wylma Levinsohn will be left with a treasured memory.  “They spent a week in Aruba and had an absolute ball, snorkeling, driving around, laying on the beach, eating,” Witt told the Ledger-Enquirer. “All the things that you would do on your fantasy vacation, they did.” Witt said Kelly Levinsohn was also her mother’s “rock” as her father, Bill Levinsohn, battled cancer before his 2017 death.  Besides her mother, Levinsohn is also survived by an older brother, Gary Levinsohn, who “loved her from the minute she was born and was so proud of what she became,” her obituary said. 

Washington Insider

  • The struggle between Democrats in the House and President Donald Trump over the Russia investigation intensified on Monday with the White House telling former Counsel Don McGahn not to honor a subpoena for  his testimony on Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee, as Democrats said it was all part of a broad effort the President and the Trump Administration to stonewall Congress about the Mueller Report and other investigations. In a letter to Democrats, McGahn's lawyer William Burck said, 'the President has unambiguously directed my client not to comply with the Committee’s subpoena for testimony.' 'Under these circumstances, and also conscious of the duties he, as an attorney, owes to his former client, Mr. McGahn must decline to appear at the hearing,' the letter added. Democrats said they would still convene the hearing at 10 am EDT on Tuesday, as they held out the possibility of finding McGahn in contempt, just as the same committee voted to find Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to honor a subpoena for an unredacted version of the Mueller Report. Democrats wanted testimony from McGahn because of the information he gave to investigators for the Mueller investigation, in which McGahn detailed repeated demands by President Trump to oust the Special Counsel. While President Trump has sternly denied that he ever ordered McGahn to get rid of Mueller, the evidence offered by the Special Counsel painted a different picture. McGahn testified that the President called him on June 17, 2017 - about a month after Mueller had been named as Special Counsel - and pressed for Mueller to be ousted, an order that McGahn repeatedly ignored. On page 300 of the Mueller Report, 'McGahn recalled the President telling him 'Mueller has to go' and 'Call me back when you do it.''  The Mueller Report described McGahn - who reportedly answered questions for 30 hours over multiple interviews - as a 'credible witness with no motive to lie or exaggerate.' McGahn also claimed in his testimony that once news of the President's request was reported in the press, Mr. Trump then pressed McGahn to dispute the veracity of the story that the President had pressed for Mueller's ouster. McGahn refused to do what the President had asked. The White House based its refusal for McGahn to testify on a new 15 page legal opinion from the Justice Department, which said McGahn - as a former top adviser - was under no requirement to testify before Congress. 'The President's immediate advisers are an extension of the President and are likewise entitled to absolute immunity from compelled congressional testimony,' the Office of Legal Counsel opinion stated. In summary, the Justice Department said simply, 'we conclude that Mr. McGahn is not legally required to appear before the Committee.' Democrats denounced the decision, and charged it was just adding more evidence to what they say is a cover up, focused on obscuring obstruction of justice by President Trump. 'This move is just the latest act of obstruction from the White House that includes its blanket refusal to cooperate with this Committee,' said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. 'The President is intimidating witnesses and stonewalling the American people and the rule of law. Congress and the American people deserve answers from Mr. McGahn,' said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA). '(T)he White House Counsel serves interests of the American people, not the President, and their conversations do not have the protection of blanket attorney-client privilege,' said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). 'It’s pretty clear what the Trump Administration is doing here,' said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), 'they’re trying to hide the facts from the American people.' Democrats have promised to move forward to hold McGahn in Contempt of Congress - but there has also been discussion of other penalties, from what is known as 'inherent contempt' - which could involve levying fines against those who refuse to cooperate with investigations by Congress. 'The cover-up continues,' said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). 'And we will fight it.