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COLOMBO: Sri Lankan troops in a northern town fired shots into the air and police imposed a curfew on Sunday after mobs attacked a mosque, in renewed religion tensions in the wake of the Easter terrorist attacks.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said that the mobs in Chilaw, 80 kilometres north of the capital Colombo, also attacked Muslim-owned businesses.

The violence erupted in Chilaw, a Catholic-majority town, after a resident misunderstood a Facebook post as a threat against Christians.

Gunasekera said the Muslim man who posted the comment has been arrested. He said the curfew would be lifted at dawn on Monday.

Official sources said the curfew was imposed to prevent the unrest from spreading to other areas.

The latest unrest came as Catholic churches resumed their public Sunday masses for the first time after the April 21 bombings at three churches and three luxury hotels left 258 people dead.

The attacks were blamed on a local group which had pledged an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant Islamic State group.

Soldiers armed with automatic assault rifles guarded St Theresa’s church at Colombo’s Thimbirigasyaya residential quarter, while members of the congregation were searched for explosives.

The sprawling church car park was empty as the authorities did not allow any vehicles into the compound as part of high-level security.

Regular services were cancelled across all churches soon after the deadly suicide attacks, but the archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith announced on Thursday that mass would be held in his diocese from Sunday.

The Cardinal conducted private Sunday services in the past two weeks, which were broadcast live on national television. He also said a special mass for the victims of the April 21 attack at the St Lucia’s cathedral on Saturday.

The congregation was made up of relatives of victims and survivors of the Easter Sunday attacks.

Most churches outside Colombo had resumed regular services from last week, but under tight security provided by the local police.

Catholic private schools which remained closed after the Easter holidays would now reopen on Tuesday, church officials said.

All state-run schools — more than 10,000 in total — resumed classes last week after police and security forces deployed armed guards. But attendance has been low despite a raft of new security measures, including parking restrictions near schools.

Sri Lanka has been under a state of emergency since the suicide bombings.

Security forces and police have been given sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods.

Muslims make up around 10 per cent of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka’s 21 million population and Christians about 7.6 per cent.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2019