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Sri Lanka's post-attacks nightlife loses fizz

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Colombo (AFP)

Before jihadi bombers targeted Sri Lanka in deadly Easter attacks, Rangana Wijesuriya used to party until the small hours in the pulsating restaurants, bars and clubs of downtown Colombo.

Now, after the April 21 attacks that killed 257 people, the buzz is gone. The DJs are performing to empty dance floors and the bar staff are bored.

"It is usually really crowded and really noisy here. We were shocked to see that it is really empty," Wijesuriya, 26, told AFP on a recent Friday night.

"Usually when we come we stay until morning and drink and go," she said, the international auditing firm employee and her friend the only diners at a restaurant.

Sri Lanka remains on high alert after bombers targeted three hotels and churches in attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.

In fact, even though it's only just gone 8:00 pm, the street is such a shadow of its former self that Wijesuriya was thinking of calling it a night.

The pedestrianised Park Street Mews used to be heaving, its many bars and chic restaurants the place to be seen for Sri Lanka's party set, plus a few tourists.

With the island nation still in shock from being the target of such an audacious and horrific attack people are afraid to go out.

While before partygoers would have to elbow through 700 or 800 people on a Friday night, now there are barely 20 people on the street. The tapas bar hasn't bothered hiring the usual band.

- Hopeful Harpo -

Every Friday and Saturday night Harpo Gooneratne, a larger-than-life bar and restaurant owner, does the rounds of the places he runs in his chauffeur-driven car.

"Colombo's nightlife, for the last couple of years, has been picking up because the tourists arrivals are getting bigger and bigger," Gooneratne told AFP.

"There were more bars, more restaurants opening, Colombo's nightlife was taking a huge turnaround. Colombo's nightlife was on the up," he said.

And he's hopeful that things will bounce back.

"It has taken a dip but we are positive that it is going to kick back and it is going to happen. The locals are going to be coming out as soon as possible," he predicted.

At the entrance to Park Street Mews, security guards check visitors' bags for explosives, and concrete blocks have been installed to prevent any attacks with vehicles.

A French restaurant in the street, the Cafe Francais, used to refuse reservations after 10 pm, and some clientele used to send their drivers to bag one of the coveted tables.

Now sales are down by half and its manager Jean-Charles Toussaint, originally from the southern French city of Montpellier, expects things to remain dire for a while.

"The situation isn't great. But it's understandable, less than two weeks since the attacks. Things will have to get going again slowly," Toussaint told AFP.

Natalie Jayasuria, owner of the Flamingo House building, where there is a bar, restaurant and a club, agrees.

"Sri Lanka is a resilient nation. We fought 30 years of war, we survived that. I believe we can survive anything," she said.

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