COLOMBO (IANS) – Sri Lanka on Tuesday partially lifted an overnight curfew imposed nationwide after an upsurge in anti-Muslim violence and warned that rioters will be dealt with maximum force — three weeks after the deadly Easter Sunday bombings.
The curfew will, however, remain until further notice in the North-Western Province where anti-Muslim violence broke out on Monday, the police said.
Twitter was temporarily blocked on Tuesday following a social media ban on Facebook, Whatsapp and Viber to prevent circulation of fake news and incitement to violence, the Daily Mirror reported.
Mosques and Muslim-owned shops were vandalized or set on fire in violence and one Muslim man was slashed to death. In several places, the police fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse mobs.
In a televised address, Police chief Chandana Wickramaratne warned that officers would respond to rioters with “maximum force”.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe earlier appealed for calm, saying the current unrest was hampering the investigation into the Easter bombings.
Tensions have been high in Sri Lanka since Islamist militants attacked three churches, three luxury hotels and two other locations on April 21, killing over 250 people.
The riots were centred on three districts north of Colombo. In the north-western town of Kiniyama, windows and doors to a mosque were smashed.
The unrest was triggered on Sunday after a group of people stormed into Chilaw town following a Facebook post by a Muslim shopkeeper about “an attack plan”, the police said.
Several people threw stones at mosques and attacked Muslim-owned shops in the town.
A 38-year-old Muslim businessman identified as the author of the post that sparked the violence was arrested, reports say. Violence was also reported in Hettipola town, where at least three shops were reportedly torched.
The government said security forces restored calm to streets in the areas affected by violence and that officers are preventing revenge attacks on Muslims, the BBC reported.
“What we want to say is that the government is very determined to control this and from tonight onwards it shall be completely controlled,” said Shiral Lakthilaka, an adviser to President Maithripala Sirisena.
However, there was concern among Muslims that their fears about retaliatory violence were not acted on soon enough.
One Muslim businessman, who wished to remain anonymous, told the BBC he feared for his safety. “We can see many places where the curfew has been announced. The Army is on the streets with guns but they don’t take any action against the violence,” he said.
According to the the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) — the main body of Islamic clerics — there has been increased suspicion of Muslims after the April attacks blamed on local Islamic group National Thowheed Jamath, which is believed to have links with the Islamic State that claimed the carnage.