World Bulletin / News Desk
Sri Lanka's opposition and civil society spoke out on Tuesday against deadly communal violence that has hit southern resort towns in recent days.
Local hospital sources told Anadolu Agency that eight people have now died in the aftermath of the clashes on Sunday, which started after a rally held by Buddhist hardliner group Bodu Bala Sena in the town of Aluthgama, was followed by a march through the predominantly Muslim town of Dharga.
A local source told AA that up to 2,500 Muslim women and children have taken refuge from the violence in the Al Humaizara School in Beruwala. AA also received reports that three Muslim houses in the area of Welipanna were set on fire on Monday night.
Ranil Wickremasinghe, the leader of the main opposition United National Party, in a speech to parliament on Tuesday blamed the government for not resolving communal disputes in the area. He also called for party leaders to stop a Bodu Bala Sena rally planned to take place in the town of Mawanella.
"They had convened people in large numbers from outer areas in buses. They had also inflamed communalism by the speeches made at that rally," he said. "The Government had followed a course of looking on idly letting various people to take law into their hands."
The clashes, which occurred while President Mahinda Rajapaksa was on a foreign trip, have raised fears about ethnic and religious divides in Sri Lanka, where a three-decade long civil war was fought between the Sinhalese-majority government and Tamil rebels in the north and east.
The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka also released a strongly-worded statement on Tuesday, criticizing "the blatant attack on members of the Muslim minority."
"In recent months Muslims and Christians alike have been subjected to hate speech and numerous attacks and violence against their places and practices of worship," said the statement. "Social polarization along religious lines is something Sri Lanka can ill-afford, particularly at this juncture of our history where as a country we are yet to resolve the ethnic conflict that manifested itself in a thirty year long war."
The U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pilay said on Monday that she was "very concerned this violence could spread to Muslim communities in other parts of the country,” and urged the government to prevent violence and hate speech.
Sri Lanka's opposition called for an in-depth investigation into the violence, while Rajapaksa had already called for an investigation on Sunday night.
According to the police there has been a curfew in the areas of Althugama and Beruwala since Sunday, but it was lifted briefly on Tuesday morning.
Police had to use tear gas stop the violence on Sunday, which saw Muslim-owned businesses set alight and a mosque attacked with stones. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka said there were reports that seven of those taken to hospital had gun shot wounds.
Muslim leaders in Aluthgama reportedly told police about their security concerns prior to the rally on Sunday but were assured of their safety. Local press had reported clashes in the area on June 12 after a Muslim man allegedly assaulted the driver of a Buddhist monk.
"Move away from party politics. Party politics is over," said the group's Secretary-General Galagodaththe Gnanasara during the rally. "Sometimes, I think that Mahinda Rajapaksa has no brain. Because if he has a brain, would he appoint a Muslim as a Justice Minister?"
Bodu Bala Sena, which literally translates to Buddhist Power Force, is a right-wing Buddhist group that was established after the end of Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war in 2009. They belong to the country's Sinhalese Buddhist majority and have been accused of inciting hate against other religions in Sri Lanka.
Another Muslim killed in new Sri Lanka riots
Renewed violence has flared in southern Sri Lanka as the number killed in violence blamed on hard-line Buddhists rose to four.
An unarmed security guard from the country's Tamil minority at a Muslim-owned farm near the town of Aluthgama was killed and despite the curfew a number of mainly Muslim shops and homes were attacked.
After an anti-Muslim rally that took place on Sunday by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), an extremist Buddhist group, three Muslims past away and over 80 people were injured.
There are also reports of attacks on Muslim businesses in two other towns in the south.
Muslims make up 10% of the country's mainly Buddhist population.
Correspondents say tension has recently been high between the two sides, with Muslims calling on the government to protect them from hate attacks by Buddhists, and Buddhists accusing minorities of enjoying too much influence.
For the past couple of years, Sinhalese Buddhist revivalist groups have been staging demonstrations heavily laden with anti-Muslim rhetoric, usually led by monks, the BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo reports.Last Mod: 17 Haziran 2014, 15:50