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Curfews in Sri Lanka to stem tensions

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Security forces are seen outside St. Anthony's Church, one of the targets in a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels on Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 27, 2019. Xinhua/A. Hapuarachchi

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka clamped curfews at a city outside the capital Sunday to contain religious tensions as the authorities prepared to reopen schools after Easter bombings that killed 257 people.

A senior police officer said the night curfew was imposed to prevent an escalation of mob violence after attacks occurred in Negombo where over 100 Christians died in a church bombing two weeks ago.

“At least two motorcycles and two three-wheel taxis have been damaged in the clashes,” the police officer told AFP. “We declared a curfew till 7.00 am (0130 GMT) to contain the unrest.”

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The country’s main international airport is located in the area, but police said there was no disruption to airport traffic.

The senior officer said an investigation was underway into the clashes, the first violence between Muslims and Christians since the April 21 jihadist attacks targeting three churches and three luxury hotels in the country.

Tensions gripped Negombo as the authorities prepared to reopen public schools after an extended Easter vacation following the suicide attacks blamed on a local jihadist group which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

The country has been under a state of emergency since the suicide bombings. Security forces and police have been give sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods.

Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of security personnel searched public schools for explosives ahead of their reopening Monday.

The search for explosives and a security cordon thrown around 10,900 schools nationwide came as the government said it has expelled over 600 foreigners, including about 200 Islamic clerics, since the April 21 attacks.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said “police and soldiers combed school premises and surrounding areas to make sure it is safe for children to go back” on Monday.

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