Sri Lanka, Notre-Dame, Joe Biden: Your Friday Briefing


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Good morning,

We start today with the changing landscape of ISIS, Joe Biden’s entry into the 2020 presidential race and the struggles of a penguin colony in Antarctica.

The coordinated attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday were believed to have been carried out by a local cell that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Sri Lankan officials have warned of more attacks; locked down Colombo, the capital; and mounted a manhunt for six more suspects.

Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry conceded it had overstated the death toll, revising its estimate from at least 359 killed to between 250 and 260.

Takeaway: The attack in Sri Lanka shows that ISIS, which lost all of its territory in Iraq and Syria, does not need a safe haven to be a major threat. It is now decentralized and relying on affiliates further afield.

The ringleader: The man accused of masterminding the attack spewed violent rhetoric for years, but people in his hometown dismissed him.

Looking ahead: Across Sri Lanka, Friday Prayer for Muslims and Sunday services for Roman Catholics have been canceled for security reasons.

Investigators are converging around two theories: a short circuit near the cathedral’s spire, possibly caused by electrified bells, or negligence by workers carrying out renovations, a theory fueled by the discovery of cigarette butts.

But nothing was being ruled out, and the investigation could last several weeks. On Thursday, police investigators were allowed to search the cathedral for clues for the first time, a police official said.

Complications: The length of the blaze and the tons of water used to put it out destroyed evidence. Though the police official confirmed that smoking — which was forbidden under the scaffolding company’s rules — was being considered as a cause, a company spokesman strongly disputed that it started the fire.

Other France news: After five months of anti-government protests, President Emmanuel Macron, in the first news conference of his presidency, promised to do better and to undertake government reforms to appease the Yellow Vest movement.

The former vice president announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination to challenge President Trump in 2020.

Mr. Biden, 76, cast the election as an emergency, and called on Democrats to put the task of defeating Mr. Trump above all other ambitions. His entrance puts the candidate list at 20 people in the most diverse presidential field ever.

Twenty-eight years after Mr. Biden oversaw the confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas, he called Anita Hill, who had accused Mr. Thomas of sexual harassment, to apologize for “what she endured” while testifying against the judge. Ms. Hill told our reporter she was deeply unsatisfied with the call.

Scrutiny over Facebook’s handling of user privacy continues to grow.

An investigation by Canadian regulators found that Facebook violated privacy laws by allowing third parties to access user data, a serious failing that the company acknowledged but refused to fix.

And in New York, the state’s attorney general plans to open an investigation into how Facebook collected the email address books of 1.5 million new users.

In other tech news: Uber is said to be planning to offer its shares for $44 to $50 each, valuing the company at as much as $90 billion. It would fall short of the initially rumored $100 billion valuation, a sign of caution amid a flood of highly hyped tech offerings.

B.R. Ambedkar was a prominent writer, a trained lawyer and the chief architect of India’s Constitution. He was also born into one of India’s so-called untouchable communities, collectively known as Dalits.

Dalits fall outside the traditional Hindu caste system. The upper castes once considered Dalits so impure that they were barred from sharing the same streets, water wells, temples and schools. Some “had to tie brooms to their waists to sweep away their polluted footprints,” wrote the novelist and journalist Arundhati Roy.

Today, the more than 200 million Dalits still face severe discrimination.

Ambedkar rose to the heights of Indian politics and the independence movement despite his background. He also fought for Dalit rights, writing protections into the Constitution.

With the general election underway, many political parties are hoping to tap the Dalit vote by claiming Ambedkar’s legacy, said Irfan Nooruddin, director of the Georgetown University India Initiative. That includes the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, even as critics say its embrace of Hindu identity could worsen the oppression of Dalits.

As for Ambedkar himself, he rejected Hinduism and converted to Buddhism shortly before his death. — Alisha Haridasani Gupta

Send us your feedback or questions on this series here.

Mozambique: A tropical cyclone that could be among the most powerful storms in East Africa’s modern history made landfall in Mozambique and other countries, just more than a month since Cyclone Idai killed more than 1,000 people and displaced millions in the region.

Germany: The country’s struggling banking giants, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, decided not to continue with merger talks. Analysts expect another European bank, such as ING Group of the Netherlands or UniCredit of Italy, to approach Commerzbank.

Russia: North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, met with President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok on Thursday. Mr. Putin made a public show of support for North Korea on nuclear disarmament, seeming to undermine President Trump’s approach.

Turkey: A last-ditch effort by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party to annul the election for mayor of Istanbul has opened wide divisions in the party’s rank and file and with its nationalist allies.

Snapshot: The Antarctic’s second-largest colony of emperor penguins, some of which are pictured above, collapsed in 2016, with more than 10,000 chicks lost, according to a new study. The population has not recovered.

Art world: From London to Berlin, we looked at five artist collectives embracing the centuries-old structure of shared resources and labor. Craft guilds, which have roots in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, can change the relationship between designers and their cities.

What we’re reading: This article in Mosaic from 2016. Anna Holland, an editor in London, writes: “This piece on suicide rates among young people in Northern Ireland is how I first learned of Lyra McKee, who dedicated her journalism career to covering the lasting trauma of the Troubles. She was killed last week doing just that, at only 29.”

Smarter Living: Not all plastic is created equal. Ever notice those recycling symbols, the triangles with the numbers inside, on some plastic packaging and containers? Those numbers are resin identification codes, and they indicate what kind of plastic the item is made from. And depending on where you live, some plastics are recyclable — and some aren’t.

And here are some kitchen tools to help you minimize food waste and maximize savings.

April is National Poetry Month. So we thought we’d look back at a different kind of poet: Larry Eisenberg, a prolific commenter on who posted in verse, mostly limericks.

With more than 13,000 comments, beginning in 2008, Mr. Eisenberg became a cult figure. A former editorial page director called him “the closest thing this paper has to a poet in residence.”

Mr. Eisenberg was a biomedical electrical engineer by day who wrote science fiction (and limericks) by night. He died in December at 99.

He turned a decade of news into poetry, from the doings of President Barack Obama and President Trump to sports to TV reviews. In 2011, he took on the topic of social media:

Was there no Life before there was Twitter?
Was it stodgy, lackluster or bitter?
I find Life too fleeting
To spend time in Tweeting,
I’m a face-to-face kind of a critter!

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina

Thank you
Chris Stanford helped compile this briefing. Mark Josephson, Eleanor Stanford and Kenneth R. Rosen provided the break from the news. Remy Tumin, on the Briefings team, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at

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Source : Nytimes