Curfew continues in Sri Lanka as incidents of communal violence rise
Colombo, May 15: Sri Lanka on Tuesday imposed a nationwide curfew for a second straight night and arrested several people after Sinhalese mob attacks on Muslim-owned shops, vehicles and mosques left one person dead, as communal violence worsened following the deadly Easter terror attacks.
Sri Lanka government enforced island-wide curfew on Monday but on Tuesday the curfew was relaxed in all areas except the northwestern province where the Muslim man was killed by the sword-wielding rioters and Sinhalese mobs set fire to Muslim-owned shops and vehicles. Homes and mosques were also vandalised by large groups of people armed with sticks and weapons.
On Tuesday evening, police announced another nationwide curfew for a second night to try and stop the violence, beginning at 9pm (local time).
"An island-wide police curfew will be imposed from 9 pm today until 4 am tomorrow," police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said.
The government also reimposed a ban on social media following the violent clashes. The government which blocked Facebook and WhatsApp on Tuesday extended the blockade to Twitter.
The social media blockade is meant to prevent the spread of rumours and hate comments, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said.
The recent violence is a fresh backlash from the Easter attacks where nine suicide bombers, including a woman, carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through three churches and three luxury hotels, killing 258 people and injuring over 500 others.
Police said they have arrested at least two prominent instigators along with nearly 20 others for violence.
"The police will take stringent action against the rioters. They will not be given bail and could spend 10 years in prison," police chief Chandana Wickremaratne said.
Muslims said that rioters went about destroying their properties and setting fire to them even after curfew hours.
They accused the security forces and the police for becoming silent watchers to the rioting.
Muslim political parties said at least one person died in the riots.
In an address to the nation on Monday night, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the military has been asked to quell the anti-Muslim riot and urged public cooperation to the security forces to bring the situation under control.
Wickremesinghe said the violence by a handful of people only hampered the ongoing investigations into suicide bomb attacks by local Islamic extremist group National Thowheeth Jama'ath (NTJ).
Main opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa blamed the government for its inability to control the violence.
Sri Lanka Army Chief Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake warned anyone instigating violence and destroying property that the armed forces would not hesitate to use maximum force to stem any violence.
He said the armed forces will ensure that the country will not be getting back to a situation of violent activities and the violence in terms of radicalisation and the terrorists.
Sri Lanka has a population of 21 million which is a patchwork of ethnicities and religions, dominated by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority.
Muslims account for 10 per cent of the population and are the second-largest minority after Hindus. Around seven per cent of Sri Lankans are Christians.
Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena has issued a gazette notice banning three Islamic extremist organisations, including the NTJ that was blamed for the Easter bombings. The other two banned organisations are the Jama'athe Milla'athe Ibrahim (JMI) and the Willayath As Seylani.
He also prohibited the use of drones in the country till further notice.