Friday, 14 December, 2018

Soldiers guard mosques in tense Sri Lanka

Map of Sri Lanka locating Kandy district. AFP Soldiers guard mosques in tense Sri Lanka
Frank Williams | 10 March, 2018, 11:49

The violence erupted after the death of a man from the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority last week.

Prayers were said in open grounds in many places because mosques had been burnt or vandalised.

At least 140 people, including the main instigator, have been arrested over the unrest, the police said.

"There is some fear among Muslims that they could be targeted ..."

A police officer not authorized to speak to the media told Anadolu Agency that scattered incidents of violence were reported in several parts of the country, especially arson attacks against Muslim-owned businesses.

Nine of the damaged mosques were in the picturesque tea-growing Kandy district, a draw for global tourists now suffering widespread cancellations.

Kandy residents said that shops and offices were open on Friday, and life was slowly returning to normal. "At the same time, the authorities are folding their arms and watching", said Muslim businessman M Jaffer, as quoted in Thursday's DailyFT newspaper.

Internet service, which was blocked across Kandy, was restored on Friday, but access to social media sites such as Facebook remained blocked across the country.

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In Kuruvita, 125 kilometres south of Kandy, police said petrol bombs were lobbed at a mosque.

"The Sri Lankan government must act swiftly and in line with human rights to prosecute those responsible for recent communal violence". There were no casualties.

However, foreign visitors to the town, a prime tourist destination, were to be allowed out in the curfew if they had their passports with them. In a parliamentary address Wednesday, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem, who is also minister of city planning and water supply, strongly criticized the police force for their inaction and failure to contain the situation.

Sri Lanka received about half a million tourists in 2009, but the numbers shot up to 2.1 million in 2017, with almost half a million visiting the island in the first two months of this year.

Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese community accounts for about three quarters of the 21 million population.

Some Buddhist nationalists have protested against the presence in Sri Lanka of Muslim Rohingya asylum-seekers from mostly Buddhist Myanmar, where Buddhist nationalism has also been on the rise.

In the capital Colombo too, Muslim-owned businesses remained shut.

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