Colombo, May 14 (IANS): Amid an uneasy calm, Sri Lanka on Tuesday imposed a nationwide curfew for a second night after two days of anti-Muslim violence in the wake of the Easter bombings and warned that rioters will be dealt with maximum force.
Although no fresh incidents of violence were reported on Tuesday, the curfew will remain in force till 4 a.m. on Wednesday, said police spokesman S.P. Ruwan Gunasekara.
Authorities say the country’s North-Western Province, where anti-Muslim violence broke out on Monday, will be shut down for a longer time.
A Muslim man was stabbed to death while rioters torched Muslim-owned shops and vandalized mosques during Monday’s attacks. In several places, the police fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse mobs.
The police have so far arrested 60 people, including the leader of a far-right Buddhist group in relation to the unrest, the BBC reported.
Tensions have been high since Islamist militants attacked three churches, three hotels and two other locations on April 21, killing over 250 people and injuring hundreds.
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, according to the Daily Mirror.
The UN has voiced alarm over the spate of attacks against religious minorities and urged Colombo to ensure that the spread of prejudice and hate among groups is not tolerated.
The UN’s Colombo office urged Sri Lankan authorities to “ensure that the situation does not escalate”. It stressed the importance of holding the perpetrators and inciters of violence to account at this “critical juncture” if peace is to be maintained.
In a televised address, Sri Lanka 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. Visiting Kuliyapitiya – a town where rioting happened – he said he would not allow the lives of innocent people to be disrupted.
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.
A large pasta factory was also burned near Minuwangoda, with the owners accusing the police of standing by while employees were trapped inside, reports say.
On the other hand, the government claims that security forces have restored calm to streets in the areas affected by violence and that officers are preventing revenge attacks on Muslims.
“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.