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Lanka curfew extended as religious clashes spread

world Updated: Jun 16, 2014 01:46 IST
Sri Lanka curfew

Sri Lankan police extended a curfew across two popular coastal resorts Sunday as Muslims and hardline Buddhists clashed sparking street rioting that renewed religious tensions in the country.

Police said they fired teargas and widened the curfew to Beruwala, a predominantly Muslim area, after initial violence broke out in the neighbouring town of Alutgama, 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of the capital Colombo.

Both areas are popular beach resorts frequented by international tourists, but there were no reports of any foreigners caught up in the violence.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is currently visiting Bolivia, said in a statement that he will not allow "anyone to take the law into their own hand".

"An investigation will be held for (the) law to take its course of action to bring to book those responsible for incidents in Alutgama," the President said on Twitter. "I urge all parties concerned to act with restraint."

Residents said Muslims were leaving their homes and seeking shelter in community centres after several houses came under attack.

"Several Muslim-owned shops have been burnt and (their) homes attacked," a resident in Beruwala told AFP by telephone.

The two groups attacked each other with stones -- the latest in a series of religious clashes to hit the island.

A police spokesman said trouble began when a group led by Buddhist monks tried to march in an area where there is a concentration of Muslims, who are a minority in the mainly Buddhist country.

"The curfew was declared to bring the situation under control," a police officer in the area told reporters. "The curfew was extended to a neighbouring area to prevent an escalation of clashes."

There were no reports of arrests.

Many activists from both sides as well as bystanders were injured during the evening clashes, according to witnesses who also reported seeing several vehicles smashed.

The latest unrest came weeks after Muslim legislators asked President Rajapakse to protect their minority community from "Buddhist extremist elements" blamed for a recent spate of hate attacks.

Muslims make up about 10 percent of Sri Lanka's 20 million population.

Nationalist Buddhist groups have in turn accused religious minorities of wielding undue political and economic influence on the island.

Videos posted on YouTube have shown mobs led by Buddhist monks throwing stones and smashing a Christian prayer centre in southern Sri Lanka in January this year and attacking mosques while police looked on.

Senior Buddhist monks have also been caught on video threatening violence against their moderate colleagues who advocate tolerance.

Rajapakse, who is a Buddhist, warned monks in January last year not to incite religious violence.

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