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Sri Lanka Catholic church 'forgives' 2019 Easter suicide bombers

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Colombo (AFP)

Sri Lanka's Roman Catholic Church said Sunday it had forgiven the suicide bombers behind the attacks that killed at least 279 people last Easter.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith told an Easter mass -- broadcast from a TV studio because of the coronavirus pandemic -- that "we offered love to the enemies who tried to destroy us".

"We forgave them," he said, adding that instead of retaliating, the nation's Catholic minority had contemplated Jesus' message of hope, and reduced tensions.

The April 21 Easter Sunday bombers targeted three churches and three luxury hotels, killing at least 279 people and wounding 593.

Last year Ranjith called for the government at-the-time to step down over its alleged failure to investigate an "international conspiracy" behind the attacks.

That government, of president Maithripala Sirisena, lost November's elections, with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa's younger brother Gotabaya taking the reins.

- Officials charged with murder -

Sirisena initially blamed Islamic extremists for the bombings, but later accused international drug dealers of being behind the attacks -- supposedly to destabilise his anti-narcotics drive.

The country's then-police chief and secretary to the ministry of defence have been charged with murder for allegedly not acting on intelligence about the attacks.

Police have arrested 135 people in connection with the bombings, blamed on the National Thowheeth Jama'ath extremist group.

They have yet to be charged.

This year's Easter celebrations have been muted amid a nationwide indefinite curfew imposed to contain the novel coronavirus.

Some 199 people have been infected, with seven deaths, the government said.

Closed-door Easter services were conducted at two of the churches targetted -- St Anthony's and St Sebastian's.

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