Colombo: Nearly two dozen people were arrested on Tuesday even as parts of Sri Lanka were under indefinite curfew after a man was killed by majority Sinhalese mobs who set on fire Muslim-owned shops and vehicles and vandalised mosques in an escalating backlash following the Easter terror attacks.
The government on Tuesday relaxed nationwide night curfew in all areas except the northwestern province where the Muslim man was killed by a mob on Monday.
Sri Lanka Police imposed island-wide curfew on Monday as anti-Muslim violence broke out in the northwestern province spread to other areas in the country as well.
Majority 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.
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 but the security officials have refused to confirm the death.
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 National Thowheeth Jama’ath (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.