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Rural panic sets in over 'grease devils'

Panic over night-time assaults blamed on "grease devils" has gripped rural Sri Lanka, leading to the deaths of at least three people this week, prompting women to stay indoors and men to arm themselves, police and local media said.

Historically, a "grease devil" was a thief who greased his body so he would be difficult to grab if chased. Lately, the "grease devil" has become a night-time prowler who frightens and attacks women.

"The story we hear is he comes and bites young women's necks and breasts. Despite several complaints, the police have failed to act on that and in fact in two places have released the culprits," a 36-year-old airline ticketing agent from the Hill Country district of Matale said.

Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd that was besieging a police station in the eastern town of Potuvil yesterday. The crowd wanted the release of four men who had captured and aimed to lynch a "grease devil".

Police had arrested the four after they beat officers who rescued the suspect from the mob.

Two villagers identified as "grease devils" were hacked to death on Wednesday by a mob in the central Sri Lankan village of Kotagala, police said.

A 22-year-old man hunting for a "grease devil" in the jungle died after stepping into an electric trap that had been set for wild boars, the newspaper Sudar Oli reported yesterday.