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Sri Lanka govt blocks internet services, extends emergency after fresh violence

Government spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne said that the curfew has been extended in the troubled hill district popular with tourists to prevent further violence.

Reported by: PTI, Colombo [ Published on: March 08, 2018 9:40 IST ]
Ambatenna Sri Lankan police officers attempt to douse
Image Source : AP Ambatenna Sri Lankan police officers attempt to douse burning shops in Ambatenna, in central Sri Lanka, Wednesday.

Fresh violence erupted between majority Sinhala Buddhists and minority Muslims in other areas of central Sri Lanka's riot-hit Kandy district on Wednesday, prompting authorities to extend a curfew till today.

The authorities had imposed curfew on Tuesday 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 Oceans 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, an 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 (SP) 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 today.

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 Lankas largest mobile phone provider Dialog said in a statement.

According to an official, Sri Lankas 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, on the condition of anonymity, 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 government 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 the declaration of a state of emergency, foreign governments, including the US and the UK, have asked their nationals visiting the island nation to "exercise caution, avoid protests and rallies, and comply with local security requirements".

UN 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.

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