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Sri Lanka declares state of emergency following riots in Kandy

PTI Colombo | Updated on March 06, 2018

Sri Lanka's Special Task Force and police officers stand guard near a burnt house after a clash between two communities in Digana, central district of Kandy, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday.   -  REUTERS

Sri Lanka today declared a state of emergency for 10 days to rein in the spread of communal violence between the majority Sinhala and minority Muslims in the country’s scenic Kandy district that left two persons dead and damaged several mosques and homes. 

Violence, triggered by the death of a Sinhalese man at the hands of a mob last week, erupted yesterday in the Theldeniya area of the central hill district popular with tourists. The government sent troops and elite police commandos to Kandy to restore order and enforce the curfew.

President Maithripala Sirisena and the Cabinet decided to declare a state of emergency for 10 days following the violence in some parts of the country, Minister of Social Empowerment S B Dissanayake told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. A Gazette notification would be issued right away after the President signs the proclamation, giving effect to the state of emergency, he said.

Muslims claimed that around 10 mosques, 75 shops and 32 houses belonging to the minority community were badly damaged in the attacks by the Sinhalese Buddhists, forcing police to fire tear gas shells and impose an overnight curfew to prevent clashes between the two communities.

The situation, however, remained tense in parts of Kandy, home to famous tea plantations and Buddhist relics, after the burnt body a Muslim man was recovered today from the remains of a burnt building. Fresh curfew was imposed today and heavily-armed police commandos of the Special Task Force were deployed in Theldeniya and Pallekele areas of Kandy after rioters disobeyed an overnight curfew and went on a rampage.

This will be the first time since August 2011, that a state of emergency will be in force in the Indian Ocean’s island nation. The state of emergency allows the deployment of troops on the street, search and arrest of people without a warrant. Sri Lanka has a long history of state of emergency during the LTTE rebellion both in the south and the Tamil minority dominated north and east of the island.

“We decided to take strong action to control the situation and to deal strongly with all wrong doers,” senior minister Rauff Hakeem, who is also the leader of the main Muslim party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), told reporters. The violence was sparked off by the death of a Sinhalese man who was assaulted by the three Muslims over a private dispute.

According to police, on February 22, the man was admitted to a hospital following an attack, where he succumbed to his injuries on March 3, after which the attackers arrested and were remanded to police custody till tomorrow. In November last, riots in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged.

In June 2014, riots between Buddhists and Muslims left four dead and many injured. The violence was instigated by a Buddhist extremist group whose leaders are on trial accused of instigating religious conflict. The Sinhalese are a mainly Buddhist ethnic group making up nearly three-quarters of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people, while Muslims are just 10 per cent of the country’s population.

Published on March 06, 2018

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