COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's Roman Catholic leader on Sunday (April 28) condemned the Easter attacks as "an insult to humanity" as the country marked a week since suicide bombers hit three churches and three luxury hotels.
The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, held a private mass shown live on television after cancelling all public services amid fears of a repeat of the attacks which left 253 dead.
But a heavily guarded vigil was held outside St Anthony's Shrine in Colombo at 8.45am local time, the moment the bomber struck the church last week, killing dozens of worshippers.
The archbishop began his mass with an appeal for peace and unity in the multi-ethnic South Asian nation, which has been put on edge by the attacks which also left nearly 500 injured.
"What happened last Sunday is a great tragedy, an insult to humanity," the cardinal said, urging followers to show kindness to others as a sign of respect for all the victims.
"Today during this mass, we are paying attention to last Sunday's tragedy and we try to understand it. We pray that those who lost their lives that day have eternal life through the Lord, and those who were injured will be healed soon," he said.
"In the same way, we pray that in this country, there will be peace and co-existence and understanding each other without division."
At the devastated St Anthony's Shrine, armed troops and police guarded the church as its bells rang out at the moment a suicide bomber blew himself up. The hands on the clock tower's clock are stuck at 8.45.
Around 20 women holding candles outside the church pressed their palms together, many weeping silently while others sobbed and murmured prayers.
The government has blamed the attacks on a local radical Islamist group affiliated to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, which has claimed responsibility.
The ISIS group on Saturday said that it was also responsible for another attack on Saturday, where three men blew themselves up in clashes with Sri Lankan police, the militant group said in a statement.
The men set off explosives after an hour-long gun battle with police on Saturday, inside what was believed to be a militant hideout near the eastern town of Kalmunai, in the latest fallout from the Easter attacks.
In a statement posted on Saturday by the ISIS propaganda unit, the Amaq News Agency, ISIS said the three men were part of the group and detonated their bombs after the fight with police.
The statement said the men "clashed with them (Sri Lankan police) with automatic weapons, and after exhausting their ammunition, detonated on them their explosive belts".
Fifteen people died in the clashes, police said, including three women and six children. The violence came six days after the Easter Day bombings. Security forces armed with emergency powers have stepped up search operations for Islamic extremists since the bombings.
Kalmunai is in the same region as the home town of the militant Zaharan Hashim who founded the group accused of staging the attacks.