Sri Lankan troops on Friday guarded mosques ahead of Friday prayers and stepped up security amid growing fears that the communal violence between majority Sinhala Buddhists and minority Muslims could spread across the country. Anti-Muslim riots, since Monday, have left two persons dead and damaged several homes, businesses and mosques in the Kandy district. The violence erupted after the death of a man from the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority last week. To rein in communal violence, a state of emergency has been imposed by President Maithripala Sirisena’s government, reports PTI.
Fresh violence erupted on Friday in Muslim neighbourhoods in Sri Lanka’s hilly central district. Most Muslim-owned businesses in the country remained shut today as troops remained on high alert to prevent any untoward incidents after Friday prayers. In the capital Colombo too, Muslim-owned businesses were closed this morning. Troops guarded mosques in the city while extra deployments were made to strengthen security and maintain peace. Police said the situation had been largely peaceful in Kandy during the last 12 hours. All schools in the district remained closed.
About 3,000 police, 2,500 troops and 750 special task forces have been deployed on the ground in Kandy. During the curfew last night, rioters tried to attack Muslim sites. The Army swiftly intervened to prevent arson. There were however incidents of stone pelting at Muslim sites elsewhere in the island. The police said the main suspects who were arrested yesterday were brought to Colombo for further questioning. The arrests of main suspects yesterday came after the police came under increasing public criticism over its alleged inaction to prevent violence in spite of the imposition of curfew.
President Sirisena, under attack for alleged police inaction, also replaced Prime Minister Wickremesinghe as the law and order minister. Some 81 people have been detain for inciting violence against Muslims. The Kandy region is about 115 kilometres from Colombo. It is popular tourist as well as Buddhist pilgrimage destination. The Sinhalese Buddhists are about 75 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million population while Muslims are 10 percent of the population.
Tensions between Muslim groups and the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community in the country have escalated since the end of the civil war in May 2009. In 2014, violence directed against Muslim minority groups broke out in the southwestern town of Aluthgama, following a rally by hardline Buddhist nationalist monks, resulting in the death of at least three Muslims.
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