All public activity came to a standstill in northeastern Sri Lanka on Wednesday in protest against the Sri Lankan Supreme Court's order to de-merge the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Sources in Batticaloa, Amparai, Trincomalee and Jaffna districts said that government offices and schools did not function. There was no public transport.
Most of the shops, in most towns in the ethnically-mixed East, except in predominantly Muslim towns like Kattankudy, Sammanthurai and Akkarapattu, had downed their shutters.
Akkaraipattu is the stronghold of government minister Athaullah, who is a vocal advocate of the de-merger.
Half the shops were not open even in the predominantly Muslim towns. However, this was probably because of Eid, locals said.
If some shops were open in the Tamil areas, it was because the Karuna group, a breakaway group of the LTTE, assisted by the security forces, was going around forcing traders to open their establishments, said Ariyanenthiran, a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP for Battialcoa district.
Karuna group chief Col Karuna had said that his Tamil Eelam Peoples' Liberation Tigers supported the de-merger in the interest of the Eastern Tamils, who were being dominated by the Northern Tamils.
Muslims against de-merger
M Sahabdeen, a well known Muslim columnist based in the East, said that 90 per cent of the Muslims of the Eastern Province were against the de-merger because a de-merger would not mean that Muslims were going to be better off.
Muslims of the East feared Sinhala-majoritarian domination as much as they feared Tamil domination, he said.
What the Muslims wanted was a separate autonomous unit for themselves in parts of the East where they were preponderant, he said.
But the Muslims did not want to alienate the Tamils, with whom they would have to live cheek by jowl in most parts of the East, Sahabdeen said.
"Even in the de-mergerd East, Tamils would be the single largest group comprising 43 per cent. The Muslims would be 33 per cent and the Sinhalas 24 per cent."
"The Muslims closed their shops today to express solidarity with the Tamils but they expect the Tamils to recognise their aspiration to have an autonomous unit for themselves in the East," he said.