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Sri Lanka declares emergency as clashes between Buddhists, Muslims escalate

Tuesday March 6, 2018 6:05 PM, Agencies

Sri Lanka Violence

[What had happened in Digana on Sunday 4 March 2018 was a crime committed on an innocent Sinhalese lorry driver by three drunken Muslim three wheeler thugs, local Muslims said. (Photo: Twitter @amanashraff)]

Colombo: Sri Lanka declared a nationwide state of emergency for 10 days on Tuesday to stop the spread of communal violence, a government spokesman said, after clashes erupted between majority Buddhists and members of the minority Muslim community.

"At a special cabinet meeting, it was decided to declare a state of emergency for 10 days to prevent the spread of communal riots," government spokesman Dayasiri Jayasekara said. He said some people were instigating violence through Facebook and warned of tough action against them, according to Reuters.

Police said on Monday there had been riots and arson attacks since the weekend in Kandy district, while sources told Al Jazeera the violence was spreading throughout the South Asian island nation. "The curfew was imposed to control the situation in the area," said police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera.

Police officers were placed on heightened alert in Kandy to ensure the "situation does not spiral into inter-communal conflagration", the government said in a statement. Mobs set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and attacked a mosque in the east of the country. Local officials said more than two dozen suspects had been detained by police in connection with the spate of arson attacks, while senior officers also launched an investigation into the conduct of the police.

Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, executive director of the Centre for Human Rights Sri Lanka, condemned the "unfathomable police inefficiency" that he said led to the violence. "Social media pages rallied Sinhalese mobs to assemble in Teldeniya town at 10:00 am. At 11:00 am, there was a proclivity for violent confrontations to take place as mobs gathered. The destruction of Muslim properties started taking place from around 1pm," Tennakoon told Al Jazeera.

The unrest in Kandy began on Sunday after the funeral of a truck driver from the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community who died days after he was involved in an altercation with four Muslims, the government has said.

"What had happened in Digana on Sunday 4 March 2018 was a crime committed on an innocent Sinhalese lorry driver by three drunken Muslim three wheeler thugs. It is a matter for law enforcement authority to deal with culprits in keeping with the law of the land", local Muslim said.

"Instead Muslim owned business in and around the area were burnt and caused havoc in the area. The government should have known that emotions were running high during funeral and it was duty bound to prevent the racist from implementing their evil agenda on Muslims in the area". they added.

Muslims make up about 9 percent of Sri Lanka's 21 million people. Buddhists make up about 70 percent and ethnic Tamils, most of whom are Hindus, about 13 percent.

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