Sri Lanka imposed a nationwide night curfew Monday, after anti-Muslim riots spread to three districts just north of the capital in a violent new backlash against the Easter suicide bombings. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the curfew was declared to prevent unidentified groups destabilising the country by orchestrating communal violence.
“At several places in the North-Western Province these groups created trouble, damaged property,” Wickremesinghe said in a televised address to the nation. “Police and security forces have contained the situation, but these (unidentified) groups are still trying to create trouble.” Wickremesinghe said the unrest would hinder investigations into the April 21 attacks that targeted three Christian churches and three luxury hotels, killing 258 people and wounding nearly 500.
Residents in the North-Western Province were ordered to stay indoors after Christian-led mobs torched dozens of Muslim-owned shops, vehicles and mosques on Sunday and Monday. The attacks came during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. Later the curfew was extended to cover the entire country of 21 million people.
Police said the curfew will be lifted at 6:00 am on Tuesday in violence-hit areas, while in the rest of the country it would be relaxed two hours earlier at 4:00 am (2130 GMT). Police said there were sporadic incidents of mobs pelting stones and torching shops, motorcycles and cars owned by Muslims. In the town of Hettipola, at least three shops were torched.
In the town of Minuwangoda, just north of Colombo, a Muslim-owned hotel and a mosque were attacked by stone-pelting mobs armed with sticks. “Several shops have been attacked,” a senior police officer told AFP. “When mobs tried to attack mosques, we fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse them.” “There is a strong political element to the riots today. There are people trying to make political capital out of this situation.” There were no immediate reports of casualties or arrests, police said.