Published: Mon, March 12, 2018
World | By Melba Underwood

Lanka to probe anti-Muslim riots

Lanka to probe anti-Muslim riots

They named the main suspect as Amith Weerasinghe, a man from the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority known for anti-Muslim activism and outspoken social media posts, and said he was taken into custody on Thursday.

Police have arrested the suspected instigators of the riots.

The police had claimed that anti-Muslim rioters were using social media to spread anti-Muslim hatred.

Sinhalese gangs set fire to mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, homes and vehicles in Kandy and elsewhere.

Kandy residents said shops and offices were open on Friday and life was slowly returning to normal. Troops guarded mosques in the city while extra deployments were made to strengthen security and maintain peace. Internet access within the district was restored on Friday, but the island-wide ban on Facebook continued despite pledges to have it lifted by Saturday.

To rein in communal violence, a state of emergency has been imposed by President Maithripala Sirisenas government for the first time in the past seven years.

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Army chief Mahesh Senanayake visited Kandy on Thursday and promised an increased military presence near mosques nationwide.

In Weligama, 240 kilometres south of Kandy, a Muslim-owned business was attacked, police said, while Muslim establishments were pelted with stones in at least two other locations outside Kandy. There were no casualties.

"We are investigating who funded them, their future plans, and whether they have any local political leadership and whether there was any foreign involvement behind this", police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara told reporters in Colombo.

The violence has raised fears of instability in Sri Lanka, a South Asian island nation still struggling to recover from almost three decades of ethnic civil war.

Sri Lanka received about half a million tourists in 2009, but the numbers shot up to 2.1 million in 2017, with almost half a million visiting the island in the first two months of this year. "In this context, Sri Lanka once again going down the same path, vis-a-vis the Muslim community, can only spell disaster and potentially take the country backwards by decades".

The restaurant in Anamaduwa - 130km north of the capital Colombo - was targeted despite police being on high alert after a spate of anti-Muslim attacks.

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