Curfews, social media block in Sri Lanka after riots

Curfews, social media block in Sri Lanka after riots

Sri Lanka’s police imposed fresh curfews and banned Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms on Monday after anti-Muslim riots gripped several towns in the latest fallout from the Easter bombings.

Christian groups attacked Muslim-owned shops in a sign of the ongoing religious tension in Sri Lanka since the April 21 attacks by jihadist suicide bombers on three hotels and three churches which left 258 dead.

A night curfew in several towns north of Colombo was lifted at dawn, but reimposed 10 hours later as tensions were fuelled by persistent rumours of mob violence.

Police said a Catholic priest had sent out a message to parishioners about possible attacks, causing panic among some people in violence-prone areas.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged the public not to believe rumours and warned that civil unrest will only stretch the already thinly deployed security forces.

“I appeal to all citizens to remain calm and not be swayed by false information,” Wickremesinghe said on Twitter, which was not targeted in the social media blockade.

“Security forces are working tirelessly to apprehend terrorists and ensure the security of the country, but each time there is civil unrest, we increase their burden and hamper ongoing investigations.”

A state of emergency has been in place since the bombings — which the Islamic State group claims to have helped — and security forces have been given sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods.

Police said a mob targeted shops in the northwestern town of Chilaw on Sunday in anger at a Facebook post by a shopkeeper. Security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd, but the violence spread to nearby towns where Muslim businesses were also attacked.

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