Fresh violence on Wednesday erupted between majority Sinhala Buddhists and minority Muslims in other areas of central Sri Lanka’s riot-hit Kandy district, prompting authorities to extend a curfew till Thursday.
The authorities on Tuesday imposed curfew till Wednesday morning after communal violence in the Theldeniya area of the central hill district that left two persons dead and damaged several mosques and homes.
Government spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne said that the curfew has been extended in the troubled hill district popular with tourists to prevent further violence.
However, arson attacks continued on Wednesday and Muslim-owned businesses were targeted by the mobs in spite of deployment of hundreds of security personnel in the district.
Following the incidents of violence, President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday declared a state of emergency and deployed the police and military to prevent further violence.
It was the first time since August 2011 that a state of emergency was in force in the Indian Ocean's island nation.
Police fired teargas shells to disperse rioters in curfew-bound areas hours after a state of emergency was imposed in a bid to quell anti-Muslim violence, a senior police official said.
In the incidents of overnight violence in a Kandy suburb, Menikhinna, three policemen were injured while seven people were arrested for breaking the curfew and trying to cause unrest, police spokesman Superintendent of Police Ruwan Gunasekera said.
The government sent troops and elite police commandos to Kandy, home to famous tea plantations and Buddhist relics, to restore order and enforce the curfew.
The curfew was lifted last morning but was re-imposed soon after several mosques, shops and homes belonging to the minority community were badly damaged in the attacks by the Sinhalese Buddhists.
Sri Lanka has a long history of state of emergency during the LTTE rebellion both in the south and the Tamil minority dominated north and east of the island.
Schools in Kandy, which is about 115 kilometres from Colombo, remained closed on Wednesday.
The Sri Lankan government suspended internet services and blocked access to social networking websites and messaging platforms like Whatsapp in the riot-hit areas.
‘Access to certain social media sites and messaging platforms will be restricted with immediate effect until further notice,’ Sri Lanka's largest mobile phone provider Dialog said in a statement.
According to an official, Sri Lanka's Telecommunications and Regulatory Commission had asked the internet service providers to block access to Facebook and other social media platforms in Kandy.
The move also affected the internet users in other parts of the country.
A senior official said that it was a ‘temporary measure’ and soon all the restrictions would be removed.
This has been done to prevent spread of false information, the government spokesperson said.
The police had claimed that anti-Muslim rioters were using social media to spread anti-Muslim hatred.
Senaratne said that politicians belonging to a certain group were responsible for the violence, in an apparent reference to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new party which won the recent local council election.
"We clearly see an organised pattern orchestrated by political hands," Senior minister Sarath Amunugama said.
He said those arrested include ex-military men, political activists and even those in active-military service.
Kabeer Hashim, a Muslim and another senior minister, said that the original incident which sparked off the clashes had been dealt with the due legal process.
“The four Muslims who were responsible for the assault and murder had been remanded. The law has taken its course when these organized groups decided to unleash violence,” Hashim said.
The government has ordered more troops to reinforce police and stop the unrest spreading.
Three special police teams, comprising three Deputy Inspector Generals of Police and three Superintendents of Police, have been deployed in Kandy on the instructions of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara, the police spokesman said.
Meanwhile, following declaration of a state of emergency, foreign governments, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have asked their nationals visiting the island nation to ‘exercise caution, avoid protests and rallies, and comply with local security requirements’.
United Nations under-secretary-general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman will be visiting Sri Lanka this week.
The UN spokesman said that Feltman will reach Colombo on Friday for a three-day tour and is also expected to visit Kandy.
Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters