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Sri Lankan police arrest 19 over racial violence

November 18, 2017 05:52 AM

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan police said Saturday that 19 people were arrested following racial violence in the country's south that started over a dispute between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims.

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Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said four people were injured in attacks that took place Friday night in areas surrounding the southern town of Galle. Homes, shops and vehicles were damaged in the violence, though the extent of the damage was not immediately known.

A curfew imposed overnight was lifted Saturday morning.

Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake said in a statement that the elite police riot squads and the military were brought in to prevent an escalation of the violence and the situation now is under control. He thanked everyone who "acted with responsibility to avoid a bloodbath."

Ratnayake also warned of stern action against those carrying out racial propaganda and spreading rumors.

Sinhalese Buddhists make up 75 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 20 million, while Muslims make up 9 percent. Even though relations between the communities have been generally cordial, Muslims have been victims of hate speech and their businesses attacked by radical Sinhalese groups in recent years.

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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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