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Muslims close shops to protest Sri Lanka attacks

June 19, 2014

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Muslims shut their shops in Sri Lanka’s capital on Thursday to protest recent attacks by hard-line Buddhists and demand that the government punish those responsible.

More than a thousand shops were closed for the day across Colombo, said Ibrahim Nisthar Miflal, president of the Muslims Rights Organization, which called the protest.

He said they were not satisfied with authorities’ response to the violence against Muslims, in which three people died and more than 50 were injured.

Hard-line Buddhists hurled gasoline bombs and looted homes and businesses on Sunday in several towns in southwestern Sri Lanka. The attacks were led by a mob from Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Power Force, which rails against the country’s Muslim minority.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited the affected area on Wednesday and promised an impartial investigation and the arrest of the culprits “irrespective of race or religious differences.”

He also asked officials to provide compensation to the affected families and repair damaged property.

A police spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment on the investigation into the attack.

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.

Separately on Thursday, a moderate Buddhist monk who is a vocal critic of Bodu Bala Sena was found assaulted and unconscious near Colombo.

Monk Wataraka Vijitha had several injuries, but his condition was not critical, a police statement said, adding that officers were investigating the incident. The monk was being treated at the main hospital in Colombo.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka — an umbrella organization of Muslim groups — called upon Rajapaksa on Thursday to investigate actions of extremist groups and ban those who have been carrying out a campaign of hate, intimidation and violence against religious minorities.

Sunday’s violence erupted after a rally by Bodu Bala Sena. Video clips show the group’s general secretary, the Rev. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, telling the crowd that Muslim-owned shops were in danger.

Gnanasara later told reporters that the Buddhists were angry over an alleged attack on the driver of a Buddhist monk.

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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