Sri Lankan police arrest couples for kissing

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The beautiful island of Sri Lanka, for many years a choice destination for honeymooners and other seekers of romance, appears to have grown weary of affection, at least of the domestic variety.

In recent days, hundreds of young people have been rounded up by police for kissing in public. Apparently following-up on complaints that the amorous couples were causing an embarrassment to others, police stepped in and enforced the "no-smooching" rule. So far, around 200 couples have been detained by police in the districts of Matara and Kurunegala over the past two weeks.

"We have taken them into custody for indecent behaviour at a public place," police spokesman Prashantha Jayakody, told the Agence France-Presse. "Usually we free them after informing their parents. Charges are not pressed."

Compared to some parts of south Asia, Sri Lanka, which has a Buddhist majority, is not as strict about displays of affection between couples – except for the more rural and remote parts of the country.

With last year's conclusion of a long-running civil war, the authorities are also keen to build an image of Sri Lanka as an easy, relaxed place for visitors. But police said that many of those who were detained in the recent swoops were still of school age and they felt obliged to act.

Local residents in Matara, a south coast resort popular with tourists, said young couples often acted intimately on the beaches as they did not have their own homes and could not afford to go to a hotel. The town reportedly has a large student population.

While the couples in the central district of Kurunegala have been released, around 22 young people from Matara are due to appear in court later today, where they will be dealt with by a magistrate.

This is not the first time, however, that Sri Lankan police have stepped in to have words with the overly-affectionate. They have also been known to occasionally round up so-called "umbrella lovers" who shelter under parasols in the sun along the coastal promenade in the capital, Colombo.

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