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Sri Lanka leader opposed to police attending attacks inquiry

FILE - This Sunday, April 21, 2019, file photo shows the inside of St. Sebastian's Church damaged in a blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Police say President Maithripala Sirisena is opposed to having them testify before a parliamentary inquiry into intelligence failures that preceded the Easter Sunday suicide attacks that killed more than 250 people. (AP Photo/Chamila Karunarathne, File)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is opposed to police testifying before a parliamentary inquiry into intelligence failures that preceded the Easter Sunday suicide attacks that killed more than 250 people, the president’s media unit said.

Sirisena met with senior officers Friday evening and told them he doesn’t favor intelligence officers being summoned by a parliamentary committee to discuss sensitive details in the presence of the media, the media unit said in statement.

The meeting between Sirisena, who is also the minister of defense and police, and senior police officers came after intelligence officials, former bureaucrats and the suspended national police chief testified before the commission and described shortcomings in the security sector.

Sirisena promised to protect officers who refuse to attend the committee hearings, the statement said.

Hemasiri Fernando, the former secretary to the Defense Ministry who resigned after the blasts, told the committee that Sirisena as his minister wasn’t easily accessible for private discussions. The suspended police chief, Pujith Jayasundara, said that Sirisena asked him to resign to take responsibility for the blasts and ensure that he will have his name cleared in any subsequent inquiry.

Jayasundara also said that Sirisena had asked him not to attend the National Security Council meetings since last October, when Sirisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a power struggle that triggered a seven-week political crisis. Wickremesinghe was subsequently reinstated by the Supreme Court.

Sirisena has said there are five cases being heard at the Supreme Court in relation to the blasts, and that the attorney general had informed him that the parliamentary hearing may be a hindrance to the court cases.

Seven Sri Lankans who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group blew themselves up at three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21. Some 500 people were wounded in the blasts.

Sri Lankan leaders and the security establishment are under fire for not acting upon near-specific information ahead of the blasts on possible attacks on churches.

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This story has been corrected to show that the statement was from the president’s media unit, not police.

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