Church calls for calm after Sri Lanka clashes

A few hundred extra troops and police were deployed late Sunday as authorities imposed a night-time curfew in the town.

Sri Lankan security personnel keep watch outside the church premises following a blast at the St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade, Colombo on 21 April 2019. Picture: AFP

COLOMBO – The head of Sri Lanka's Catholic Church appealed for calm on Monday after sporadic violence between Christian and Muslims north of Colombo prompted police to impose a curfew.

In the first such violence since the Easter Sunday bombings of three churches and three hotels by Islamist extremists that killed 257 people, several Muslim homes and vehicles were damaged in Negombo.

Authorities have yet to confirm any arrests or injuries in the clashes, but videos circulated on social media showed mobs throwing stones at Muslim businesses, destroyed furniture inside homes, shattered windows and overturned vehicles.

AFP was unable to immediately verify the footage.

A few hundred extra troops and police were deployed late Sunday as authorities imposed a night-time curfew in the town.

"I appeal to all Christians, Buddhists and Muslims to be patient, show restraint and ensure the peace we maintained after the Easter bombings," Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said on national television on Monday.

The government blocked access to social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook to prevent what it called the spread of rumours and videos aimed at instigating religious riots.

More than 100 people died at Negombo's St. Sebastian church, the highest number of casualties in the 21 April attacks.

The curfew was lifted on Monday morning and police said an investigation into the evening clashes was underway.

Sri Lanka's main international airport is located in the area, but police said there was no disruption to airport traffic.

Muslims make up around 10% of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka's population and Christians about 7.6%.

Meanwhile, public schools reopened Monday after an extended Easter holiday, with heavily armed police and troops guarding schools and imposing parking restrictions.

The country has been under a state of emergency since the Easter bombings.

Security forces and police have been give sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods.

The government has blamed the Easter bombings on a local jihadist organisation which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.