Sunday January 23, 2022

Sri Lankan Buddhist monks denounce anti-Muslim riots

March 10, 2018

COLOMBO: Hundreds of Buddhist monks and activists staged a demonstration in the Sri Lankan capital on Friday to condemn anti-Muslim riots that have killed three people and forced the government to declare a nationwide state of emergency.

The National Bhikku Front said they organised the silent protest against what they called "communal clashes destroying national unity". Moderate Buddhist leaders have also denounced the riots concentrated in the central city of Kandy, 115 kilometres east of the capital Colombo.

Several Sri Lankan users also posted photos on Twitter of Buddhist monks visiting mosques during Friday prayers to express solidarity. Sinhalese and Muslim civil society groups had staged a joint protest in Colombo Thursday calling for tough action against the perpetrators of the riots.

Violence erupted on Monday after a Sinhalese man died of injuries suffered during an attack last week by four Muslim men. Tensions escalated when the body of a Muslim man was found in a burnt out building in the Kandy district on Tuesday.

Sinhalese gangs set fire to mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, homes and vehicles in Kandy and elsewhere. The government declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew while troop reinforcements were used to back police patrols. Police said the main instigator of the riots was arrested on Thursday along with 145 others. He was identified as Amith Weerasinghe, a Sinhalese known for anti-Muslim activism and extremist social media posts.

A group of radical Buddhists monks are facing prosecution for their alleged role in anti-Muslim violence in 2014 that left four people dead. Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese community accounts for about three quarters of the 21 million population. Most are Buddhists. Muslims account for 10 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, soldiers and police guarded mosques across Sri Lanka during Friday prayers amid fears of new anti-Muslim attacks after four days of riots that have left at least three dead. Most Muslim-owned businesses in the island nation remained shut in protest at attacks by mainly Buddhist Sinhalese groups concentrated around the central city of Kandy.

Armed troops and constables patrolled outside mosques while in Kandy, prayers were said in open grounds in many places because mosques had been burnt or vandalised. "There were no incidents during the Friday prayers," a police official in Colombo said, adding that investigators had stepped up the search for those who took part in the violence.

At least 140 people, including the main instigator, have been arrested over the unrest, police said. They named the main suspect as Amith Weerasinghe, a Sinhalese known for anti-Muslim activism and outspoken social media posts. He was held Thursday.

The riots, which began Monday after a man from the Sinhalese majority died from injuries sustained in an attack by Muslims last week, have left nearly 200 Muslim businesses and homes destroyed. Eleven mosques were attacked.

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

Kandy residents said shops and offices were open on Friday and life was slowly returning to normal. Muslims were seen inspecting the damage to their burnt out businesses. Troops guarded every junction while security personnel carried out patrols on motorcycles and in armoured personnel carriers.

Internet services, which were blocked across Kandy, were restored on Friday, but access to social media sites such as Facebook remained blocked across Sri Lanka. Police said Sinhalese extremists were using social media sites and messaging applications to spread hate speech and instigate attacks on the Muslim minority.