Sri Lanka imposes curfew after religious violence

*Several Muslim-owned shops burned, homes attacked *Muslim Council says police unable to protect minorities

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The Sri Lankan government has imposed a curfew on two southern towns to quell clashes between a Buddhist group and Muslims, as the latest religious violence started after a Buddhist rally in Aluthgama, a foreign news channel reported on Monday.

The police said that they were widening a curfew in Alutgama to the neighbouring town Beruwala, a predominantly Muslim area, after violence threatened to take hold in the region. The two groups attacked each other with stones in fighting over the weekend – the latest in a series of religious clashes to hit the island nation.

A police spokesman said trouble began when a group led by Buddhist monks tried to march in an area with a sizeable population of Muslims, who are a minority in the mainly Buddhist country. “The curfew was declared to bring the situation under control,” the spokesman said.

“The curfew was extended to a neighbouring area to prevent an escalation of clashes," he said. Several Muslim-owned shops have been burned and homes attacked, a resident in Beruwala told AFP. "Some Buddhists are deliberately targeting Muslims. But unfortunately police have not been able to protect minorities,” said Hilmy Ahmed, spokesperson of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka.

“A petty feud between two individuals has been allowed to take a religious tone. The extremist Buddhists led by Bodu Bala Sena attacked Muslims and are still in the area despite curfew." There were no reports of arrests but dozens of people were said to have been injured.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is in Bolivia attending the G77 summit, has called for restraint with the promise that the government will not allow anyone to take the law into their hands. “An investigation will be held for law to take its course of action to bring to book those responsible for incidents in Aluthgama,” he said in a Twitter message.

The latest unrest came weeks after Muslim legislators asked Rajapaksa to protect their minority community from extremist elements blamed for a recent spate of hate attacks. Muslims make up about 10 percent of Sri Lanka's 20-million population. Nationalist Buddhist groups including the Bodu Bala Sena accused religious minorities of having undue political and economic influence on the island.

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