Sri Lanka imposed a nationwide night curfew yesterday, after anti-Muslim riots spread to at least three districts just north of the capital in a violent new backlash against the Easter suicide bombings.
Official sources said the curfew was aimed at preventing a further escalation of violence, but police would not say why it had been extended across the country of 21 million people.
Initially, the districts of Puttalam, Kurunegala and Gampaha, near Colombo, were told to stay indoors after Christian-led mobs attacked several Muslim-owned businesses and mosques on Sunday and yesterday.
“The curfew in the three districts will be lifted at 6.00 am on Tuesday while in the rest of the country, a curfew will be imposed from 9.00 pm (1530 GMT) till 4.00 am (2130 GMT),” police said in a statement.
Police said there were sporadic incidents of mobs pelting stones and torching motorcycles and cars owned by Muslims. In the town of Hettipola, at least three shops were torched.
Police and troops fought off hundreds of rioters in at least six towns earlier yesterday with teargas.
“Several shops have been attacked,” a senior police officer told AFP. “When mobs tried to attack mosques, we fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse them.”
“There is a strong political element to the riots today. There are people trying to make political capital out of this situation.”
There were no immediate reports of casualties or arrests, police said.
Earlier, authorities banned Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms after overnight riots gripped several towns in the region including Chilaw.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urged the public not to believe rumours and warned that civil unrest will stretch the already thinly deployed security forces.