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Fire guts Muslim shop in Sri Lanka amid tensions

June 21, 2014

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A fire gutted a Muslim-owned clothing chain in a Sri Lanka district Saturday where days earlier Buddhist mobs attacked Muslim shops in deadly violence condemned by the international community, police said.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said an investigation was underway to determine whether the fire was caused by an electrical short-circuit or was a criminal act.

The store owners could not be reached for comment and there were no casualties in the fire.

The two-story building burned down in Panadura town in Kaluatara district south of the capital, Colombo. Last Sunday, a mob led by militants from Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Power Force, which rails against the country’s Muslim minority, hurled gasoline bombs and looted Muslim homes and businesses in the same district.

The attacks killed three people and wounded more than 50. Muslims shut their shops on Thursday to protest the violence and demand justice. The government has promised an impartial investigation and police have detained more than 30 people in connection with the attacks.

Bodu Bala Sena has been gaining followers and is believed to enjoy state support. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s powerful defense secretary and the president’s brother, once made a public appearance supporting the group’s cause.

Sri Lanka is still deeply scarred by its 1983-2009 civil war between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and ethnic Tamil rebels, who are largely Hindu, but Buddhist-Muslim violence has been relatively rare.

The United Nations, European Union and the United States have expressed concern about the violence and have urged the government to protect religious minorities.

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