Sri Lanka under nationwide curfew after crowds attack mosques

The violence erupted in Chilaw a Catholic-majority town after a resident misunderstood a Facebook post as a threat against Christians. — AFP  File

The violence erupted in Chilaw a Catholic-majority town after a resident misunderstood a Facebook post as a threat against Christians. — AFP File

A Sri Lankan province north of the capital was under indefinite curfew on Tuesday (May 14) after the first death in anti-Muslim riots in the wake of the Easter terror attacks, police said.

Police arrested a group of men for the attacks but people in the mostly Buddhist district then demanded their release, military spokesman Sumith Atapattu said.

The 45-year-old man died shortly after admission to a hospital in Puttalam district during the rioting which began Sunday in the area, a police official told AFP.

Security forces fired tear gas to disperse mobs in several parts of the province on the second day of violence, which also saw many Muslim-owned buildings and mosques ransacked.

Tensions have been running high in Sri Lanka since the April 21 attacks by militant Islamic suicide bombers who struck two Catholic churches, one Protestant church and three luxury hotels. One man was stabbed to death with a sword.

"What we see is a more a political crisis where certain political parties and their agents at the base level run out of control and they go and attack unnecessarily these people".

'The curfew in the NWP will be continued until further notice, ' spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.

Young Sinhalese Buddhist men led riotous mobs through northwest Sri Lanka from Sunday through Monday evening.

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"About 2,000 people surrounded our mosque and smashed everything inside, even the bathroom fittings", cleric M. I. M. Siddeeque told AFP by telephone from the curfew-bound town of Bingiriya.

Authorities said they have arrested more than 74 suspects in connection with the anti-Muslim attacks, including three Sinhala Buddhist extremists who had been investigated for similar actions in Kandy previous year.

Authorities have arrested dozens of suspected rioters, including three described as Sinhala Buddhist hardliners who had been investigated for similar actions in the town in Kandy district a year ago.

Despite the extraordinary security measures, the minorities felt insecure, said Dissanayake, who is also a government minister. "We have given the armed forces of this country. a complete free hand to tackle the security situation".

"Several shops have been attacked", a senior police officer told Agence France-Presse.

"The attacks on mosques, the burning of houses and shops, the attacks on innocent people can not be condoned in any way", Jayasuriya said in a statement.

He said it was awful and frightening to witness the unfolding events as innocent men, women and children of the Muslim community are targeted in reprisal for the horrendous and beastly attacks by some extremists on April 21. Earlier, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram had been blocked to prevent the spread of messages inciting violence.

"Social media blocked again as a temporary measure to maintain peace in the country", Nalaka Kaluwewa, the director general of the Department of Government Information said.

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