Religious clashes have erupted between Christians and Muslims after bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, leading to the country’s Roman Catholic Church making a call for calm and an alcohol ban.
The need for the call arose in a town scarred by the Easter suicide attacks.
Hundreds of security forces entered Negombo to impose a curfew after dozens of Muslim-owned shops, homes and vehicles were attacked.
St. Sebastian’s church in the town 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of capital Colombo was one of three churches and three hotels hit by jihadist suicide bombers on April 21 killing 257 people.
The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, in a video message to the country said “I appeal to all Catholic and Christian brothers and sisters not to hurt even a single Muslim person because they are our brothers because they are part of our religious culture,”
Spokesperson of the archbishop, Edmund Tillakaratne, said Ranjith visited Negombo and held talks with clerics at a mosque and appealed to the government to shut bars in the Catholic-dominated town known as “Little Rome”,
Tillakaratne said “As a temporary measure, the cardinal asked the government to order the ban on liquor sales in Negombo area,”
In another televised appeal, Ranjith appealed to Christians, Buddhists and Muslims to show restraint.
Negombo suffered the highest death toll in the Easter Sunday attacks that were claimed by the Islamic State group. The bomb at St. Sebastian’s killed more than 100 worshippers.
A top police officer said two arrests were made after the latest clashes and more suspects had been identified through CCTV footage.
The officer said an alcohol-fuelled dispute between two groups degenerated into the clashes.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a statement the government will compensate those who lost property in the night-time clashes while blaming the Easter bombings on a local jihadist organisation which had pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
A few hundred extra troops and police were deployed late Sunday as authorities imposed a night-time curfew in the town.
The government blocked access to WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media platforms for several hours to prevent what it called the spread of rumours and videos aimed at instigating unrest.
The country has been under a state of emergency since the Easter bombings, curfew was, however, lifted on Monday morning and social media was working again by noon Monday.
Muslims make up around 10 per cent of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka’s 21 million population and Christians about 7.6 per cent.