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UK 2018 economic growth weakest since 2012, as Brexit and global worries weigh

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A British Union flag, also known as a Union Jack, flies beside a European Union (EU) flag during ongoing pro and anti Brexit protests outside the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A British Union flag, also known as a Union Jack, flies beside a European Union (EU) flag during ongoing pro and anti Brexit protests outside the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

“GDP slowed in the last three months of the year with the manufacturing of cars and steel products seeing steep falls and construction also declining,” ONS statistician Rob Kent-Smith said.

For 2018 as a whole, growth dropped to its lowest since 2012 at 1.4 percent, down from 1.8 percent in 2017. Exports suffered from global weakness and consumers and businesses grew increasingly concerned about the lack of a plan for when Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29.

Last week the BoE chopped its forecast for growth this year by 0.5 percentage points to 1.2 percent, which would be the weakest year since the 2009 recession.

The final months of 2018 saw concerns about a global slowdown hurt growth across major economies, due in part to trade tensions between the United States and China, and Brexit has remained an added challenge for Britain.

Monday’s data showed net trade lopped more than 0.1 percentage points from the fourth quarter growth rate. Falling business investment did similar damage.

Looking at December alone, the economy contracted by 0.4 percent, the biggest fall since March 2016.

Less than seven weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May has so far failed to win parliament’s backing for the plan she agreed with Brussels to avoid reimposing checks on goods exported from Britain.

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Comedian Zelenskiy wins Ukrainian presidential race by landslide: exit poll

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Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comedian and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, hosts a comedy show at a concert hall in Brovary, Ukraine March 29, 2019.

Valentyn Ogirenko | Reuters

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comedian and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, hosts a comedy show at a concert hall in Brovary, Ukraine March 29, 2019.

Ukraine entered uncharted political waters on Sunday after an exit poll showed a comedian with no political experience and few detailed policies had easily won enough votes to become the next president of a country at war.

The apparent landslide victory of Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 41, is a bitter blow for incumbent Petro Poroshenko who tried to rally Ukrainians around the flag by casting himself as a bulwark against Russian aggression and a champion of Ukrainian identity.

The national exit poll showed Zelenskiy had won 73 percent of the vote with Poroshenko winning just 25 percent.

If the poll is right, Zelenskiy, who plays a fictitious president in a popular TV series, will now take over the leadership of a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Zelenskiy, whose victory fits a pattern of anti-establishment figures unseating incumbents in Europe and further afield, has promised to end the war in the eastern Donbass region and to root out corruption amid widespread dismay over rising prices and falling living standards.

But he has been coy about exactly how he plans to achieve all that. Investors want reassurances that he will accelerate reforms needed to attract foreign investment and keep the country in an International Monetary Fund program.

“Since there is complete uncertainty about the economic policy of the person who will become president we simply don’t know what is going to happen and that worries the financial community,” said Serhiy Fursa, an investment banker at Dragon Capital in Kiev.

“We need to see what the first decisions are, the first appointments. We probably won’t understand how big these risks are earlier than June. Perhaps nothing will change.”

View an election graphic here

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Explosions at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday

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At least 129 people were killed and nearly 500 hospitalized from injuries in near simultaneous blasts that rocked three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, the state-run Daily News reported.

A security official told The Associated Press that the death toll was 138 people, and included worshippers and hotel guests.

Two of the blasts were suspected to have been carried out by suicide bombers, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with reporters.

It was the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war a decade ago. The magnitude of the bloodshed recalled the random bombings perpetrated by the separatist Tamil Tigers that targeted a bank, a shopping mall, a Buddhist temple and hotels popular with tourists.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts.

St. Anthony’s Shrine and the three hotels where the blasts took place are in Colombo, and are frequented by foreign tourists. A National Hospital spokesman, Dr. Samindi Samarakoon, told AP they received 47 dead, including nine foreigners, and were treating more than 200 wounded.

Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels.

The Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted in the blast, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space.

A police magistrate was at the hotel to inspect the bodies recovered from the restaurant. From outside the police cordon, several bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.

Alex Agieleson, who was near the shrine, said buildings shook with the blast, and that a number of injured people were carried away in ambulances.

Other blasts were reported at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a majority Catholic town north of Colombo, and at Zion Church in the eastern town of Batticaloa. St. Sebastian’s appealed for help on its Facebook page.

The explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows at St. Sebastian’s, where people carried the wounded away from blood-stained pews, TV footage showed.

Sri Lankan security officials said they were investigating. Police immediately sealed off the areas.

Sri Lankan security forces in 2009 defeated Tamil Tiger rebels who had fought to create an independent homeland for the country’s ethnic minority Tamils. The U.N. initially estimated the death toll from 26 years of fighting to be about 100,000 but a U.N. experts’ panel later said some 45,000 ethnic Tamils may have been killed in the last months of the fighting alone.

Government troops and the Tamil Tigers were both accused of grave human rights violations, which prompted local and international calls for investigations.

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Explosions hit two churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday

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Two Sri Lankan churches and two hotels were hit by explosions on Easter Sunday, wounding several people, police sources said.

The hotels and one of the churches are in the nation’s capital Colombo. The other church is in Negombo, north of Colombo.

A source in the police bomb squad said that one of the explosions was at St Anthony’s Church in Kochcikade, Colombo. “Our people are engaged in evacuating the casualties,” the source said.

Sources from two leading tourist hotels in Colombo also confirmed the explosions but did not give any details.

Colombo National hospital said several wounded had been brought in for treatment.

St. Sebastian’s church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo posted pictures of destruction inside the church on its Facebook page, showing blood on pews and the floor, and requested help from the public.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

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