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Sri Lanka imposes curfew again as anti-Muslim riots escalate
SRI LANKA'S police on Tuesday declared a nationwide curfew for a second night running, after anti-Muslim riots killed one man and left dozens of shops, homes and mosques damaged.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the night curfew will go into effect from 9.00 pm while the most affected North Western Province (NWP) will have a longer shutdown.
The government issued a text message to citizens announcing the curfew.
Violence broke out late on Monday, three weeks after Islamist extremist bombings killed 258 people, with rampaging mobs carrying out arson attacks and 2,000 people vandalising a mosque, witnesses said.
Police said in the latest violence, a 45-year-old Muslim man was slaughtered in his carpentry shop by a crowd carrying swords.
Police said on Tuesday that 23 people had been arrested including Amith Weerasinghe, a man from Sri Lanka's majority Buddhist Sinhalese community on bail for his role in similar riots in March last year in the central Kandy district.
Elsewhere in NWP north of Colombo, the attackers, who outnumbered police and security forces, set fire to Muslim-owned shops, vandalised homes and smashed windows, furniture and fittings inside several mosques.
In the adjoining Gampaha district, men on motorbikes led arson attacks in the town of Minuwangoda, 45 kilometres north of Colombo, local residents said.
"They were from out of town," an owner of an electronic goods store said. "After they started smashing Muslim shops and throwing petrol bombs, the locals joined in." He said police and security forces appeared to be overwhelmed and that by the time troops fired in the air to disperse the mobs it was too late.
A pasta factory owned by a Muslim businessman burned to the ground after unidentified attackers threw burning tyres inside.
"Police and security forces also did not do anything to put out the fire," the owner of Diamond Pasta, Ashraf Jifthy, told AFP by telephone. "Three of my Muslim workers were injured while trying to escape from the burning factory." A mosque in Minuwangoda was also stoned.
In the NWP, attackers systematically targeted mosques for two days, local clerics said. In the town of Kinyama, two mosques were smashed as the outnumbered armed police and troops stood by.
"About 2,000 people surrounded our mosque and smashed everything inside, even the bathroom fittings," cleric MIM Siddeeque told AFP by telephone from the curfew-bound town of Bingiriya.
Video footage of the unrest showed burning shops as mobs armed with sticks and stones roamed the streets attacking Muslim-owned shops.
Police said the curfew in the NWP would continue until further notice.
"Security forces are assisting police who have been ordered to use maximum force to contain the violence," police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.
Police said they fired in the air and used tear gas at several places to deter people attempting to attack mosques.
Political commentator Victor Ivan suggested that the violence was politically orchestrated. "The opposition feels that they can gain when there is instability and the government appears to be weak," Mr Ivan said. "There is evidence of junior level opposition figures instigating communal violence."
He said the country's political establishment, including the opposition, had failed to provide leadership and restore confidence after the April 21 attacks claimed by the Islamic State group. AFP