Buddhist monks and activists gathered in their hundreds on the streets of Colombo on Friday to protest communal violence between majority Buddhists and members of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority that have resulted in at least two fatalities and compelled the government to declare a national state of emergency last week, the first time the measure has been used in seven years.
Riots erupted in and around the central city of Kandy early last week after a Sinhalese man died following an altercation over a traffic dispute with a group of Muslim men. Tensions escalated on 6 March, when the body of a Muslim man was discovered in a burned-out building. The ensuing riots and retaliatory attacks by Buddhist mobss over subsequent days have left two people dead, several dozen injured, with mosques attacked and dozens of homes and business destroyed.
Representatives of the National Bhikku Front said the silent demonstration in Colombo was a protest against the violence that risks re-opening barely healed rifts in Sri Lankan society. “Communal clashes are destroying national unity,” said monks. “We must defeat this trend.” (AsiaNews.it)
The protesting monks were joined by activists that included academics, artists, and representatives of civil society organizations, and Islamic groups.
“What exploded in Kandy was not an isolated incident nor [did it] happen spontaneously,” said Anura Dissanayaka, leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP; People’s Liberation Front). “Communalism is systematically aroused throughout the country by various interested parties.” (AsiaNews.it)
“Some political movements, instead of finding solutions, are bent on spreading communalism in their communities,” said Dissanayaka. “Politics has divided people into camps. As such, the communalism that has emerged in our country must be defeated.” (AsiaNews.it)
Moderate Buddhist leaders have also publically denounced the violence and social media posts have been circulated with images of Buddhist monks visiting mosques during Friday prayers in gestures of solidarity.
“We have to proceed together,” said a Buddhist monk during a mosque visit in Colombo. “Very few people think in such a dangerous manner,” he said of the rioters. (AsiaNews.it)
Police say they have since arrested the suspected instigators of the riots including their leader, a Sinhala man identified as Amith Weerasinghe, described as a known anti-Muslim activist.
Meanwhile, Muslim neighborhoods in Kandy that had been affected by the violence were reported to be calm on Friday, with shops and businesses reopening. On Saturday, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a three-member committee of retired judges to investigate the attacks, and announced the lifting of the curfew. Military personnel continued to patrol the streets amid concern over further violence.
According to a 2011 national census, Theravada Buddhists make up the majority in Sri Lanka, representing some 70.2 per cent of the population. Hindus accounts for 12.6 per cent, Muslims 9.7 per cent, and Christians 7.4 per cent. The clashes have stoked fears of renewed instability in the South Asian island nation, which is still recovering from almost 30 years of civil war.
Sri Lanka Buddhist monks denounce anti-Muslim riots (Al Jazeera)
In Colombo Buddhist monks express solidarity with Muslims victims of attacks (AsiaNews.it)
Sri Lankan Buddhist monks denounce anti-Muslim riots (The News)