Sri Lankan police ban rallies inciting hatred
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan police announced Sunday that they will not allow rallies or marches inciting religious and communal hatred in the future, a week after Buddhist mobs attacked minority Muslims in deadly violence that was condemned by the international community.
Last Sunday, a mob led by the group 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 Kaluatara district, south of the capital, Colombo. The attacks killed three people and injured more than 50.
The 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.
Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said that religious rallies or processions will be permitted, but not those inciting communal or religious hatred.
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.
On Sunday, a group of Buddhist and Muslim religious leaders urged the government to identify and punish the perpetrators of last week’s violence and to take measures to prevent similar violence in the future.
“We urge the government not to allow any religious extremist group to operate and cause violence in the country,” Buddhist monk Galagama Dhammaransi told reporters in Colombo.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised an impartial investigation into last week’s attacks and the arrest of those responsible “irrespective of race or religious differences.”
He has also asked officials to provide compensation to the affected families and to repair damaged property.
Earlier, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka — an umbrella organization of Muslim groups — had called upon Rajapaksa to investigate extremist groups and ban those who have been carrying out a campaign of hate, intimidation and violence against religious minorities.
Rohana said police have deployed 15 more teams to speed up the investigation and bring those responsible to justice. Earlier, five police teams were probing the violence and 35 people have been detained in connection with the investigation.