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Sri Lanka steps up security for Easter services

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Security was stepped up at churches across Sri Lanka ahead of Easter Sunday services to guard against a repeat of the 2019 suicide bombings that killed 279, a police spokesman said.

More than 12,500 armed constables were on duty outside close to 2,000 Sri Lankan churches, and were backed by military personnel.

"We have also got the help of armed forces to patrol and reinforce police units across the country," said police spokesman, Deputy Inspector-General Ajith Rohana.

Sri Lanka was shaken on Easter Sunday in 2019 when three churches and three hotels were targeted by alleged local extremists in the largest single terror attack in the history of the country.

At least 279 people were killed in the attacks, and around 500 were wounded.

On Sunday, police checked identity cards and bags before allowing people to attend the morning mass at St Sebastian's church north of the capital Colombo, where at least 115 were killed in the 2019 Easter attack.

More than 200 people have been arrested in connection with the bombings, but no one has been indicted yet, with the Roman Catholic Church pressing the government to prosecute those responsible as well as those who failed to prevent it.

Posters calling for justice were put up outside St Sebastian's, which was packed with worshippers on Sunday.

The head of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, has given the government a deadline of April 21 to initiate action against those responsible, or face nationwide protests.

He lit candles at the St Anthony’s church where 56 people died when local militants carried out the coordinated suicide attacks.

Cardinal Ranjith renewed his call for swift action against those responsible for the attack and said the then president Maithripala Sirisena should be prosecuted for criminal negligence in failing to prevent it.

An investigation ordered by Mr Sirisena soon after the April 21, 2019, bombings found that he and his intelligence officials had precise information from India about the impending attack 17 days earlier, but failed to act.

“President Sirisena’s guilt has been identified in the commission report,” Cardinal Ranjith told reporters outside the St Anthony’s church. “I ask President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government why they are dragging their feet without prosecuting him.”

Mr Rajapaksa came to power in November 2019 promising action against those responsible for the 2019 attack. Mr Sirisena who did not offer himself for re-election is currently a legislator from Mr Rajapaksa’s SLPP party.