TIME Pakistan

Twin Bombings Outside Pakistan Churches Kill 14

K.M. Chaudary—AP Pakistani Christian women mourn as they gather at a church damaged from a suicide bombing attack in Lahore, Pakistan, March 15, 2015.

Pope Francis pained by attacks in Lahore, which were claimed by a Pakistani Taliban splinter group

At least 14 people died and nearly 80 were wounded in deadly bomb blasts outside two churches in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Sunday morning, marking one of the country’s worst-ever attacks on its Christian minority.

A Pakistani Taliban splinter group called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the twin explosions, which occurred just minutes apart during Sunday services at the churches in Lahore’s Youhanabad neighborhood, Reuters reports.

A policeman and a private security guard were reported to be among those killed in the blasts. Al Jazeera quoted a police spokesman as saying that suicide bombers were behind the attacks, which came just weeks after a suicide bombing outside a Lahore police compound killed several people.

The bombings on Sunday were followed by protests by Lahore’s Christian community about the lack of security. Local media reported that, shortly after the attacks, an angry crowd lynched two men suspected of involvement in the bombings.

Pastor David, a local cleric in Youhanabad, told AFP that the two churches were only 500 meters (1,640 feet) apart. “One blast took place at the entrance of one church where a congregation was going on,” he told the news agency. “Another blast took place in the second church.”

Speaking to Reuters, an eyewitness described the moment one of the suicide bombers blew himself up. “I was sitting at a shop near the church when a blast jolted the area. I rushed towards the spot and saw the security guard scuffle with a man who was trying to enter the church, after failing, he blew himself up,” said Amir Masih. “I saw his body parts flying through the air.”

The attack in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, is one of worst ever on the country’s Christian minority; the deadliest occurred in September 2013, when at least 80 worshippers were killed at a historic church in the restive north-western city of Peshawar.

After the bombings, Pope Francis went off-script during his usual address at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, telling the crowd he was pained by the attack. “These are Christian churches,” he said. “Christians are persecuted, our brothers spill their blood simply because they are Christians.”

TIME India

India’s Modi Aims to Put Economy into Higher Gear With First Full Budget

India's PM Modi, President Mukherjee, Lok Sabha speaker Mahajanand Vice President Ansari walk inside the parliament premises as they arrive to attend the first day of the budget session in New Delhi
Reuters India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center left, and members of his government walk inside the parliament premises as they arrive to attend the first day of the budget session in New Delhi, Feb. 23, 2015.

Attempts to both satisfy the business community and help the poor

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government unveiled its first full-year budget on Saturday, ramping up infrastructure spending, cutting corporate taxes and unveiling plans for a new universal social security system.

Modi’s finance minister, Arun Jaitley, said the proposals laid out “a roadmap for accelerating growth,” as he delayed deficit-reduction plans to make room for new spending. But Jaitley steered clear of any measures to dramatically alter to the country’s economic architecture, sticking with, for example, food and fuel subsidies worth billions of dollars annually.

Instead, Modi’s government sought to balance the demands of business executives who were showing signs of impatience with the pace of economic reforms with measures to provide pensions and life insurance for the country’s poorest citizens. Here are five highlights from Saturday’s budget.

New infrastructure funding

Jaitley announced plans to pump an additional $11.4 billion in road, rail and other such projects across the country next year. He also said the government would set up a new fund to spur investment in infrastructure, long seen as a drag on growth as businesses both big and small struggle to move goods around the vast South Asian nation. The World Economic Forum’s annual global competitiveness report, for example, places India 87 out of 144 economies in terms of infrastructure. “Our infrastructure does not match our growth ambitions,” said Jaitley, as he also announced plans to set up five major power plants with a capacity of 4,000 megawatts each.

Taxes cut for business

Indian stock markets, which stayed open as Jaitley rose to speak in Parliament on Saturday, moved higher as the government unveiled a cut in corporate taxes from 30% to 25% over the next four years. “This will lead to higher levels of investment, higher growth and more jobs,” said Jaitley. A planned goods and services tax, meant to replace a series of federal and state-level taxes with a single levy, will be implemented from April next year. There was also a new tax on the country’s super-rich, or those earning more than Rs. 1 crore (around $162,000), who will now face a 2% surcharge on their incomes.

Social security reforms

While lower corporate taxes cheered business executives, Jaitley also unveiled plans for a new, wide-ranging social security scheme, including a measure that he said would provide government-subsidized accidental death insurance to the poor for an annual premium of Rs. 12 — or around 20 U.S. cents. There were also plans to provide pensions for the poor, and subsidize physical aids for senior citizens living below the poverty line.

Steps to bring tourists to India

The government said it would increase the number of countries covered by India’s visa-on-arrival initiative to 150 (albeit “in stages”) from the 43 announced last November, in order to boost tourism to the country. There were also measures to spruce up the country’s historic monuments, many of which are in need of restoration work.

A tax break for yoga

Prime Minister Modi approvingly thumped his desk in Parliament as Jaitley announced a move to class yoga as a charitable activity, making its promotion eligible for tax exemptions, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. A longstanding advocate of the discipline, Modi last year appointed a separate minister in his government responsible for the promotion of alternative therapies such as yoga and traditional medicine.

TIME India

Upstart Party Delivers a Blow to India’s Modi

Indian Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal speaks to supporters as he celebrates victory in the state assembly elections outside the party's headquarters in New Delhi on Feb. 10, 2015.
Manish Swarup—AP Indian Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal speaks to supporters as he celebrates victory in the state assembly elections outside the party's headquarters in New Delhi on Feb. 10, 2015.

The anti-corruption Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party has defeated Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party in local elections in Delhi, interrupting the so-called "Modi wave" that swept through India last year

Narendra Modi wasn’t a candidate in the recently concluded city-wide elections in Delhi, the early results of which, on Tuesday morning, pointed to an overwhelming victory for an upstart ant-corruption political party. But as the ballots were counted and the scale of the Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party’s (AAP) triumph became clear, there was little doubt that the Indian Prime Minister had nonetheless suffered a crushing loss—his first since he led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in national elections last year.

Modi’s lieutenants had hoped that his personal popularity—which helped the BJP secure the biggest single-party majority in thirty years in the national contest last May—would carry them over the finish line in Delhi. Although the BJP nominated a chief ministerial candidate for the city’s top job, its campaign billboards and posters centered on images of a smiling Modi and the party’s radio advertisements encouraged voters to elect a “Modi government.” Images of Kiran Bedi, an ex-senior police officer whom the BJP recruited late in the contest to be its chief ministerial nominee, were less common in the party’s hoardings—and when they appeared, were often smaller and clearly secondary to Modi’s.

But right from the start, the BJP struggled to replicate the kind of momentum that had propelled it to victory on the national stage last year. In May, Modi had deftly harnessed a growing feeling of disillusionment with the then Congress Party-led national government to gallop to victory, promising better governance and an emphasis on economic development following a series of high-profile corruption scandals and a period of lackluster economic growth. BJP strategists dusted off the same playbook for the Delhi contest. Alongside shots of Modi, the party’s saffron-colored billboards promised “all-round development” for the city if its citizens backed the party with an absolute majority in Delhi’s 70-seat legislature.

The gambit failed—and spectacularly so. By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the AAP had won at least 31 seats and was leading in a further 36 seats, suggesting almost complete control of the Delhi legislature. The BJP, in contrast, had won 2 seats, and was a leading in a third, while the Congress had been wiped off the Delhi map, failing to win even one seat. With the trends so clearly in favor of the AAP, Modi rang up the party’s chief ministerial candidate Arvind Kejriwal earlier in the day to offer his congratulations. (Final results late on Tuesday confirmed that the AAP had won 67 seats, leaving only three for the BJP.)

Only months ago, Tuesday’s outcome in Delhi would have seemed unthinkable, as the BJP’s star rose and the AAP appeared a spent force after an abortive stint running the Indian capital.

In Dec. 2013, the AAP, then less than a year old, confounded expectations by winning 28 seats in the city’s 70-seat legislature. Though short of a clear majority, the young party, which sprung from a popular anti-corruption movement, did well enough to form a minority administration and Kejriwal became Delhi’s chief minister. But the government fell after just 49 days, when Kejriwal, a former tax department official, resigned, blaming opposition parties for frustrating his plans to introduce an anti-corruption law. Critics, however, said his decision to step down in Feb. 2013 showed that the AAP was better at campaigning than governing. Undaunted, Kejriwal returned to electioneering by standing against Modi in the Varanasi parliamentary constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in the national polls in May. But he was crushed as Modi and the BJP swept to victory.

In recent weeks, Kejriwal campaigned in Delhi for a second time by first apologizing for quitting when he had a chance to govern in 2014. “People felt hurt that they invested so much of themselves in a party and movement that was seen to have walked away,” he wrote recently.

Along with the contrition, there were promises to, among other things, stamp out corruption from the city administration and drive down electricity tariffs. It worked. Appearing before a jubilant crowd of party workers in Delhi on Tuesday, Kejriwal said the support for the AAP was “scary” and warned his party colleagues against becoming too confident in the aftermath of their stunning achievement. Both the Congress, which ran the city government for a decade-and-a-half until 2013, and the BJP had been undone by their arrogance, he added.

The outstanding question, after the BJP’s failure in Delhi, is whether the AAP’s success will have consequences beyond the capital.

While last year’s general elections gave the BJP a clear majority in the lower house of the Indian parliament, the party remains in the minority in the indirectly-elected upper chamber, which has stood in the way of Modi’s proposals to reform the Indian economy. As a result, the Indian leader has resorted to a series of temporary executive orders to, for example, speed-up the acquisition of land for industrial projects. To make it easier for Modi to legislate, the BJP needs to win state elections and increase its tally of state-level legislators, who elect members of the upper chamber of the national parliament. Until its defeat in Delhi, the BJP had notched up a number of state-level wins that were widely-attributed to Modi’s continuing appeal. The local media lauded a “Modi-wave” as the party recorded gains around the nation.

But the Delhi result, and Kejriwal’s triumph, punctures that narrative ahead of other state elections in the coming months and years. Losses in those contests could ultimately puncture Modi’s agenda.

TIME India

5 Things You Need to Know About Obama’s Visit to India

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a meeting with India's PM Narendra Modi at the White House in Washington
Larry Downing—Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he hosts a meeting with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington September 30, 2014.

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to touch down in New Delhi on Sunday morning, kicking off a highly anticipated three-day visit that will see him attend India’s Republic Day parade on Jan. 26.

Here are the five things you need to know as the President arrives in the Indian capital.

1. This is a highly symbolic visit with many firsts
Obama will be the first U.S. President to attend the Jan. 26 parade, a Soviet-style jamboree to mark the day in 1950 India’s constitution came into force. Past invitees to the annual celebration include Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Nicholas Sarkozy. But that’s not all: when he lands in New Delhi, Obama will also become the first sitting U.S. leader to visit India twice, following an earlier trip in 2010.

2. This is not the first (nor even second) meeting between Obama and the new Indian leader
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power following Indian national elections in 2014, traveled to the U.S. in September, visiting New York City and calling in at the White House in Washington D.C. “It is rare for leaders, especially American presidents, to have successive summits so quickly,” Tanvi Madan, director of The India Project at the Brookings Institution, told TIME. Modi and Obama also met at the G20 Summit in Australia and the East Asia Summit in Burma last year.

3. Relations between the two countries haven’t always been smooth
Another reason this visit is significant is that it symbolizes a rapid improvement in U.S.-India ties, which were nearly undone at the end of 2013 over a row involving Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York. Accused of visa fraud and underpaying her house-keeper, she was arrested and strip-searched by U.S. law enforcement, sparking angry protests and diplomatic retaliations from India.

4. The symbolism may be backed up by some substance
Modi and Obama will discuss a whole host of issues when they sit down for talks. Among those topping the agenda will be bilateral trade, climate change, increased defense cooperation and investment in India’s civilian nuclear sector, where a deal is being sought to break a long-standing impasse over a local law that is blamed for keeping foreign nuclear companies from getting involved in the Indian market. (It’s not yet clear if the two sides will come to an agreement in time for the President’s arrival.) Obama and Modi are also expected to discuss the regional geopolitical situation.

5. And finally, there’s a bilateral radio show
Obama will join Modi on a special edition of the Indian leader’s regular radio program that will air on state broadcaster All India Radio on Jan. 27. The Indian Prime Minister broke the news of the show himself using his Twitter feed:

And the state broadcaster prepared a special poster:

TIME India

What to Expect From President Obama’s Visit to India

President Obama Meets With Prime Minister Narendra Modi Of India At The White House
Alex Wong—Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Sept. 30, 2014.

With only days to go before the U.S. leader arrives in New Delhi, officials from the two governments are trying to hammer out deals on a host of issues, including nuclear energy and climate change

No occasion in New Delhi’s official calendar is as laden with nationalist imagery as the celebration, every Jan. 26, to mark the day in 1950 when India’s constitution came into force. Tanks, missiles and thousands of soldiers, along with elaborate floats representing the country’s states, roll down Rajpath, the Indian capital’s broadest avenue, to commemorate the milestone in a grand, Soviet-style parade. Which is why, this year, when U.S. President Barack Obama takes his place next to India’s leaders to witness the pageantry, there will be no mistaking the political symbolism.

Obama, who is due to arrive here this weekend, will be the first American leader to attend the parade, and his presence on Rajpath alongside the Indian President Pranab Mukherjee — the country’s ceremonial head of state — and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will send out a clear message that the relationship between the two countries “is now accorded a special status that’s a bump up from the past,” says Milan Vaishnav, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

It will also underscore a rapid shift in U.S.-India ties, which descended into an angry diplomatic row involving Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York City, in late 2013. Accused of visa fraud and underpaying her housekeeper, Khobragade was handcuffed and strip-searched by U.S. marshals, triggering furious protests from New Delhi. India retaliated by yanking away various privileges enjoyed by American diplomats and removing security barriers from around the U.S. embassy in New Delhi’s diplomatic quarter. And then in March, as India’s political class limbered up for national elections, the fracas was seen by many as a factor behind the departure of Nancy Powell as Washington’s top envoy to the country. (U.S. officials denied the link.)

“The Indians were outraged, it was a big thing in the media, and the relationship was put on hold,” says Robert Hathaway, a public-policy scholar and former director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center. “The contrast of last year to this year is perhaps the most remarkable thing about this visit.”

Powell has since been replaced by Richard Verma, the first Indian-American U.S. ambassador to New Delhi. And Modi, who led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to victory in last year’s elections with promises to revive India’s flagging economy, has already called in at the White House during a trip to the U.S. Modi’s visit also put to rest any concerns about his feelings toward a country that denied him a visa in 2005. Citing the bloody sectarian rioting that shook the western Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was chief minister, the U.S. blocked the Indian leader from visiting New York. But all was forgotten in September, when the newly installed Prime Minister Modi visited Washington at the invitation of the American President. Plans for Obama—who this weekend will also become the first sitting U.S. leader to visit India twice, following an earlier trip in 2010—to attend the Jan. 26 parade were put in motion shortly thereafter.

“We did expect that [Obama] would visit again in his second term, especially after he had reached out to [Modi] and the Indian Prime Minister had reciprocated — but we didn’t expect that it would be so soon,” says Tanvi Madan, the director of the India project at the Brookings Institution. “I think both want to take advantage of the momentum that they built with the last visit.”

To buttress that momentum and bilateral bonhomie, officials on both sides are working to ensure that the coming meeting between the President and the Prime Minister yields more than just another handshake. The focus is on “deliverables” — jargon for deals between the two governments that could be announced when Obama greets Modi. “Both sides will clearly have a full agenda of issues that they want to come to some meeting of minds about,” says Hathaway. “They will succeed in some respects but I certainly don’t expect any huge breakthroughs.”

The American side’s agenda became clearer earlier this month, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to India to attend an economic summit in Gujarat, highlighting four burning issues when the two leaders sit down together: cooperation in the civil nuclear sector, climate change, defense and security, and economic ties. The last item on the list will likely be one of the first to come up, says Hathaway, as investors in India and beyond wait to see if the Modi government can deliver on its promise to boost the country’s flagging economy. “They will talk about how the United States can help Modi achieve his domestic economic agenda,” he explains. “They’ll talk about trade, they’ll certainly talk about investments.”

But whether these economic talks bear fruit might ultimately hinge on what happens in the weeks and months after Obama flies home. The Modi government’s first budget, put together less than two months after the new administration took office last May, was widely judged to be a disappointment. Attention now is focused on whether its second budget, expected at the end of February, can usher in the reforms economists say are needed to spur growth and attract investors.

On climate change, there’s little prospect of the kind of agreement reached between the U.S. and China last year, when Beijing for the first time agreed to cap its carbon emissions. Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, nipped any speculation in the bud last month when he said no such pact was in the works with New Delhi. Instead, the emphasis during the Obama visit will be on securing India’s backing for a global climate deal at a planned international summit in Paris at the end of the year. As the world’s third largest carbon polluter, India’s agreement is seen as key to securing an international accord to cut emissions.

The two countries are also trying to break a long-standing impasse over an Indian law that makes equipment suppliers liable for accidents at nuclear plants, in contrast to international rules that place the burden of damages on plant operators. Critics say the legislation has blocked American suppliers from the Indian energy sector despite a landmark civilian nuclear-cooperation deal between the two governments in 2008. While the prospects for a resolution in coming days remains uncertain, Indian and American officials reportedly plan to meet Wednesday to see if they can hammer out an accord in time for the President’s visit.

All of which leaves defense and security ties. Here, discussions between Obama and Modi are likely to range wide, from the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and its implications for India’s security, to the recent skirmishes along the India-Pakistan border. Washington and New Delhi are also expected to renew a decade-old defense-cooperation pact that is set to expire this year. The big headline, though, would be a deal to jointly produce a new piece of defense hardware. Long talked about and far from assured next week, such an agreement would both underline the strength of U.S.-India ties and dovetail nicely with Modi’s campaign to boost Indian manufacturing.

“Even if it’s something that’s relatively small, the symbolic effect could be quite positive,” says Vaishnav.

TIME Sri Lanka

Pope Francis Seeks ‘Reconciliation’ in Sri Lanka

Pope Francis holds his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on Oct. 15, 2014 in Vatican City.
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis holds his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on Oct. 15, 2014 in Vatican City.

The first papal visit to the country since the end of a bloody civil war

Pope Francis traveled to a former conflict zone in northwest Sri Lanka on Wednesday, calling for “reconciliation, justice and peace” during a prayer at a Catholic shrine damaged during the bloody civil war that convulsed the island nation for nearly three decades.

For years, the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu—located deep in the Tamil-dominated north that saw some of the fiercest fighting during the conflict between the country’s predominately Sinhalese government and Tamil separatists—was off limits for most believers. In April 2008, about a year before the end of the war, priests briefly removed the Madhu Matha—a 2-ft. icon of the Virgin Mary that forms the centerpiece of the shrine—for safekeeping as government forces pushed up north.

“There are families here today which suffered greatly in the long conflict which tore open the heart of Sri Lanka,” Pope Francis said, as a giant crowd reported to be half-a-million strong gathered to witness his arrival at the shrine. “Many people, from north and south alike, were killed in the terrible violence and bloodshed of those years.”

MORE 5 things to know about Pope Francis’ Sri Lanka visit

Among those listening him to were about 1,000 men and women disabled during the civil war, which claimed an estimated 70,000 lives. “This is a special occasion for them, they want to hear the Holy Father speak of the suffering here, so that the world’s eyes will open [to the] people still suffering here,” said Ramsiyah Pachchanlam, who works with a local organization that helps men and women wounded and disabled in the conflict.

The Pope’s arrival in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, days after the unexpected ouster of wartime leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in Presidential elections earlier this month, marked the first papal visit to the country since the end of the war. Rajapaksa’s successor, Maithripala Sirisena, has pledged to hold an independent domestic inquiry into wartime rights abuses, a contentious topic for many among the country’s majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities. Both government forces and Tamil separatists stand accused of serious human rights violations during the war.

“No Sri Lankan can forget the tragic events associated with this very place, or the sad day when the venerable statue of Mary, dating to the arrival of the earliest Christians in Sri Lanka, was taken away from her shrine,” the Pope said at the shrine.

“May all people find here inspiration and strength to build a future of reconciliation, justice and peace for all the children of this beloved land,” he added.

-Additional reporting by Amantha Perera / Madhu, Sri Lanka

TIME Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Looks to Chart a New Course After Ousting Mahinda Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka Awaits Results Of 2015  Presidential Election
Buddhika Weerasinghe—Getty Images Sri Lanka's President-elect Maithripala Sirisena waves as he leaves the Department of Election office after the election commissioner officially declared him as the new President on Jan. 9, 2015, in Colombo, Sri Lanka

President-elect Maithripala Sirisena has promised to dismantle the outgoing leader's executive presidency

Before calling presidential elections two years ahead of schedule, Mahinda Rajapaksa consulted his astrologer, Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena, who foresaw not just a third but also a fourth term in office for the Sri Lankan strongman.

“The President has great inborn power,” Abeygunawardena said recently, anticipating an “easy victory” for his 69-year-old client. “According to his luck, this is easier than the first and second presidential elections.”

Sri Lankan voters, who turned out in high numbers to participate in the ballot on Thursday, had other ideas.

Early returns on Friday spectacularly showed up that “inborn power,” spelling triumph for Maithripala Sirisena, a 63-year-old former Rajapaksa ally and Health Minister who announced a surprise run for the presidency a day after his ex-boss called the snap election in November. Shortly before declaring his hand, Sirisena had dined with the former President, who, after bringing a long-running civil war with Tamil separatists to an end in 2009, had secured a second term in office with a landslide victory in 2010. (Both sides are accused of human-rights abuses in the conflict, which lasted 26 years.)

At the time, Rajapaksa — who followed up his re-election with measures to remove presidential-term limits and concentrate executive authority in his office — seemed assured of another victory, with his grip over the machinery of government tighter than ever. His brother Gotabaya looked after the defense department; another sibling Basil was responsible for economic development; and a third, Chamal, oversaw the Sri Lankan legislature as Speaker.

The opposition accused the President and his clan of abuses of power and plundering the nation’s wealth. But Rajapaksa confidently shrugged off such allegations, safe in the knowledge that, whatever opposition parties might say, they did not have a viable alternative candidate for the January race.

That changed with the arrival of Sirisena, who, like Rajapaksa, belongs to the country’s Sinhalese majority. His emergence from within the President’s fold turned what looked set to be a coronation for Rajapaksa into a gripping contest, as opposition groups, including the country’s main Tamil party, backed Sirisena’s candidacy. (Rajapaksa’s isolation came into sharp focus earlier this month when he sought the support of the Tamil minority by asking them to vote for the “devil you know” over an “unknown angel.”)

From the start, Sirisena took aim at Rajapaksa’s accumulation of power. “One family has taken control of the economy, power and the party,” he said when he defected. “The country is moving toward a dictatorship.”

Voters responded to his promise to reverse this trend and dismantle Rajapaksa’s executive presidency.

“This [result] shows that autocracy is not something that Sri Lankans will accept,” Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based think thank, tells TIME after Rajapaksa conceded defeat in an early morning meeting with opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe.

Congratulating the new Sri Lankan leader, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he looked forward to working with Sirisena as his government “works to implement its campaign platform of a Sri Lanka that is peaceful, inclusive, democratic, and prosperous.”

Kerry went on to commend Rajapaksa for conceding defeat following a largely peaceful ballot.

Ahead of the vote, there were fears of violence as the country geared up for what looked like a close contest between the President and Sirisena. But with the opposition candidate clearly in the lead, the violence did not materialize.

“At the end of the day what clinched it was the writing on the wall that there was a generalized desire for change and that any attempt to cling on to power wouldn’t have support from within government itself,” says Saravanamuttu.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also quick to congratulate Sirisena.

Under Rajapaksa, New Delhi had been left on the sidelines as Sri Lanka built stronger ties with China. Beijing stepped up its economic involvement in the country, becoming a major investor investor and trading partner. The two countries also strengthened their military ties and, last year, India expressed concern at the docking of Chinese submarines in Colombo.

With Sirisena’s election, New Delhi will be watching closely to see if he keeps his campaign promise to build bridges with not just China but also India and other Asian powers. His election manifesto assured voters that “cordial relations will be strengthened with India, China, Pakistan and Japan, the principal countries of Asia,” noting that Sri Lanka’s “image has been destroyed due to its incompetent and naive foreign policy and strategies.”

“They [Sirisena and his supporters] are concerned about balance in Sri Lanka’s international relations,” says Saravanamuttu, expecting the new government to look beyond Beijing.

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