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Trump tweets, then deletes, grossly overstated death toll in Sri Lankan church explosions

Coordinated explosions targeting churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed at least 311 people and injured more than 500 on April 21. (Video: Joyce Lee, Drea Cornejo, JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/For The Washington Post/The Washington Post)
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Early Sunday morning, before his tweets about Easter and the Mueller report, President Trump expressed condolences to families of the victims of the Sri Lankan explosions — and grossly overstated the death toll.

“Heartfelt condolences from the people of the United States to the people of Sri Lanka on the horrible terrorist attacks on churches and hotels that have killed at least 138 million people and badly injured 600 more,” Trump tweeted. “We stand ready to help!”

As of 2018, the population of Sri Lanka was around 22 million.

More than 200 people have died in the coordinated explosions, which struck churches and hotels on Easter Sunday in three cities. About 450 have been injured.

Early estimates reported by news outlets put the death toll at 137.

Within an hour, the president deleted the incorrect tweet and sent a new one: “138 people have been killed in Sri Lanka, with more that 600 badly injured, in a terrorist attack on churches and hotels. The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka. We stand ready to help!” he wrote.

The explosions in Sri Lanka were the first thing Trump tweeted about Sunday morning. The president has faced criticism for his reaction to tragedies, sometimes for the content of his statements, but more often for his omissions and delayed responses.

After the March 15 attack on mosques in New Zealand, in which 50 people were killed in a shooting allegedly carried out by a white supremacist, Trump was criticized for initially spending much of his time on Twitter that weekend attacking rivals, retweeting conspiracy theorists and condemning the news media rather than addressing the shooting. Several days later, he tweeted that the “Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand.”

How Trump talks about attacks targeting Muslims vs. attacks by Muslims

Critics also questioned why the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris garnered a total of four tweets last week and a pledge of support to France from Trump, while three black churches that burned in Louisiana weeks earlier went unacknowledged on the commander in chief’s feed. Authorities say the three churches, which burned within 10 days of one another in the same parish, were set ablaze by a white man they have charged with arson and hate crimes.

In the most notable instance, Trump drew widespread criticism for his response to the Charlottesville protests in 2017, in which white supremacists clashed with counterprotesters and one woman was killed. The president initially blamed “many sides” and “both sides” for the violence, contradicting official White House statements that specifically condemned white supremacy, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Politicians from both parties blasted the president for his remarks.

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