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Sri Lanka declares emergency as Buddhist mob ransacks Muslim properties in Kandy

Tension has been growing between the two communities in Sri Lanka over the past year, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites.

world Updated: Mar 07, 2018 08:32 IST
Agencies, Colombo
Sri Lanka emergency,Emergency in Sri lanka,Buddhist-Muslim clashes
Sri Lanka's Special Task Force stand guard near a burnt house after a clash between two communities in Digana, central district of Kandy, on Tuesday.(Reuters photo)

Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency for 10 days to rein in the spread of communal violence, a government spokesman said on Tuesday, a day after Buddhists and Muslims clashed in the Indian Ocean island’s central district of Kandy.

The move comes hours before India is scheduled to play their opening match against Sri Lanka in the Tri-Nation Nidahas Twenty20 Cup in Colombo on Tuesday.

The announcement came after Buddhist mobs swept through the hill town of Kandy on Monday, burning at least 11 Muslim-owned shops and homes, after a Buddhist man was reportedly killed by a group of Muslims

Lakshman Kiriella, a lawmaker from Kandy, said in Parliament that the attacks were “carried out by outsiders.”

“I am ashamed as a Buddhist and we must apologize to the Muslims,” he declared.

So far no violence has been reported in any other part of the island nation.

Tension has been growing between the two communities in Sri Lanka over the past year, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites.

Sri Lankan police commandos patrol next to a damaged shop in the central district of Kandy on March 6, 2018, after a state of emergency was declared. (AFP photo)

Some Buddhist nationalist have also 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.

“At a special cabinet meeting, it was decided to declare a state of emergency for 10 days to prevent the spread of communal riots to other parts of the country,” the spokesman, Dayasiri Jayasekara, told Reuters.

“It was also decided to take stern action against people who are instigating violence through Facebook,” he added, referring to postings on social media.

Details of the emergency decree were not immediately announced, and it was unclear how it would affect life on the South Asian island nation.

The government sent troops and elite police to Kandy after a mob set fire to a Muslim-owned shop, imposing a curfew there on Monday to prevent clashes between majority Sinhalese Buddhists and minority Muslims.

The body of a Muslim man was pulled from the ashes of the burnt building Tuesday, police said.

A police spokesman said hundreds of commandos from the police Special Task Force had been deployed to the troubled district to restore order and enforce the curfew.

The Sinhalese are a mainly Buddhist ethnic group making up nearly three-quarters of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people. Muslims are just 10 percent of its population.

More than two dozen arrests have been made and an inquiry opened into police conduct in Kandy, just the latest region to be plagued by religious and ethnic conflict.

Last November riots in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged.

In June 2014 riots between Buddhists and Muslims left four dead and many injured.

That violence was instigated by a Buddhist extremist group whose leaders are on trial accused of spurring religious conflict.

First Published: Mar 06, 2018 14:31 IST