2 arrested after clash in Sri Lanka town hit by Easter blast

NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Two people have been arrested and an overnight curfew lifted Monday after mobs attacked Muslim-owned shops and some vehicles in a Sri Lankan town where a suicide bombing targeted a Catholic church last month.

Residents in the seaside town of Negombo say the mostly-Catholic attackers stoned and vandalized shops. It is unclear how the dispute began but most residents say a private dispute took a religious turn.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said earlier that the violence was brought under control and two people arrested.

A.M. Jeffry, a Muslim resident of Porutota village near Negombo, said the attackers burnt a three-wheeler taxi and a motorbike.

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Rizwan Jeffry, a gem-seller who is not related to the former, said about 400 people rampaging in the streets stoned his shop. Some of them took precious stones kept in showcases, he said.

Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith along with Muslim clerics visited the area Monday to appeal for peace.

The government blocked some social media sites overnight, including Facebook and WhatsApp, “in order to control the situation,” the information department director Nalaka Kaluwewa said. The block was lifted early Monday.

The clash was the first reported since the Easter bombings by Islamic extremists two weeks ago that killed more than 250 people.

A state of emergency has been in place since then, with warnings that more attacks are possible. Catholic churches were closed for a second weekend, and Muslims are under security surveillance and subjected to hate comments on social media.

Military spokesman Sumith Atapattu said Sunday that several people had been injured in clashes in Negombo, where St. Sebastian’s Church was targeted in the attacks carried out by bombers who had pledged support for the Islamic State group.

Ethnic clashes aren’t new to Sri Lanka. A civil war between rebels from the minority Tamil community and the Buddhist Sinhalese-majority government ended in 2009.

Most of Sri Lanka’s majority ethnic Sinhalese are Buddhists, but Negombo has a majority Sinhalese Catholic community.

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Associated Press journalists Krishan Francis and Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo contributed to this report.

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