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Sri Lanka churches halt public services

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Security personnel stand guard outside St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 22, 2019, a day after the church was hit in a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. Xinhua/AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches suspended all public services over security fears on Thursday, as thousands of troops joined the hunt for suspects in deadly Easter bombings that killed nearly 360 people.

Security forces also made fresh arrests overnight over the attacks, as the government faced pressure over its failure to act on intelligence warnings about possible bombings.

Recriminations have flown since suicide bombers blew themselves up in luxury hotels and churches packed with Easter worshippers on Sunday.

The president has asked the police chief and top defence ministry bureaucrat to step down, though neither has done so yet.

Overnight, security forces using newly granted powers under the country’s state of emergency arrested 16 more suspects in connection with the attacks.

Police have so far arrested 75 people but tensions remain high with several suspects unaccounted for.

A senior Catholic priest told AFP that all public services were being suspended and all churches closed “on the advice of security forces”.

Private services for burials will still be carried out, but no public masses are scheduled.

Brigadier Sumith Atapattu said the army increased its deployment by 1,300 to 6,300, with the navy and airforce also deploying 2,000 more personnel. Investigators are still piecing information together about the attack.

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