Sri Lanka lifts curfew in Negombo; police says situation under control

Sri Lanka lifts curfew in Negombo; police says situation under control
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Colombo: Sri Lankan authorities Monday lifted an overnight curfew in the western coastal town of Negombo where violence erupted between groups of people over the weekend, days after the Easter bombings by Islamist extremists that killed more than 250 people in the island nation.

The curfew was imposed on Sunday after a group of miscreants carrying swords attacked some people travelling on a three-wheeler in Porathota area of the town. The vehicle was set on fire.

Several people were injured in clashes in Negombo, where St. Sebastian's Church was targeted in the Easter attacks carried out by suicide bombers who had pledged support for the ISIS.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said on Monday that Negombo was calm and curfew had ended at 7 am.

The government also blocked some social media sites overnight, including Facebook and WhatsApp, in order to control the situation. The block was lifted early Monday.

The police said an argument had instigated the clash and it was escalated after a drunken man's intervention. The curfew was imposed in the town as a precaution. Two people have been arrested in connection with the clashes.

Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, said that it was a personal clash between two groups. "The situation was brought to my notice and we have restored calm," he said.

A senior police officer said an investigation was underway into the clashes.

Negombo is a majority Christian town where the St Sebastian's church was attacked by a suicide bomber on the Easter Sunday.

The Islamic State terror group claimed the attacks, but the government blamed local Islamist extremist group National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ).

Sri Lanka banned the NTJ and arrested over 100 people in connection with the blasts.

Meanwhile, the schools reopened Monday after the Easter Sunday blasts.

Police and soldiers combed school premises and the surrounding areas to make sure it is safe for children to go back on Monday, a senior police officer said.

Armed soldiers were seen guarding all leading schools in the city. However, the normal school traffic was not seen.

The education ministry's announcement to reopen schools after security guarantees were received from the military was still debated. Some leading Buddhist prelates had urged the government to delay the re-opening due to further possible attacks from the jihadists.

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.