Sri Lanka’s ‘Little Rome’ rocked by clashes between Christians and Muslims
Posted on May 6th, 2019
Sri Lankan air force soldiers patrol a Muslim neighborhood following overnight clashes in Poruthota, a village in Negombo, about 35 kilometers North of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, May 6, 2019. AP
Sri Lankan air force soldiers patrol a Muslim neighborhood following overnight clashes in Poruthota, a village in Negombo, about 35 kilometers North of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, May 6, 2019. AP

A majority-Christian city in Sri Lanka known affectionately as “Little Rome” has been rocked by clashes between Christians and Muslims after the Easter Sunday suicide bombings claimed by ISIS that left 257 people dead.

The Catholic Church has called for calm after Christians attacked Muslim-owned shops, homes and vehicles in Negombo.

“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,” said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo.

“Therefore please avoid hurting them and try to create a better spirit of understanding and good relations between all the communities of Sri Lanka,” he said in a video message to the country.

The Negombo’s main church, St Sebastian’s, a building modelled on the cathedral in the French town of Reims, was targeted by a suicide bomber. He killed more than 100 people when he detonated during Easter Mass.

The place of worship, located some 40 kilometres north of the capital Colombo, was just one of three churches targeted alongside three luxury hotels on April 21. But it suffered the highest death toll of any site struck on that day by eight ISIS-inspired suicide bombers.

The mob attacks will add to fears that the suicide bombings would widen religious and ethnic divisions in the country that has lived in relative peace since the civil war between the government and the separatist Tamil Tigers ended in 2009.

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The cardinal visited Negombo, held talks with clerics at a mosque and appealed to the government to shut bars in the city, his spokesman Father Edmund Tilakaratne said.

“As a temporary measure, the cardinal asked the government to order the ban on liquor sales in Negombo area,” Father Tilakaratne said.

In another televised appeal, Cardinal Ranjith appealed to Christians, Buddhists and Muslims to show restraint.

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 all will be prosecuted under emergency laws approved after the Easter attacks.

“At least three people were injured in the clashes,” the officer said. “Although we have arrested only two suspects at the moment, many more have been identified and we will go after them.”

The officer said an alcohol-fuelled dispute between two groups degenerated into the clashes.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the government will compensate those who lost property in the night-time clashes.

Unverified video circulating on social media showed mobs throwing stones at Muslim businesses, destroyed furniture inside homes, shattered windows and overturned vehicles.

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 curfew was lifted on Monday morning and social media was working again by noon Monday.

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