Sri Lanka declares state of emergency over sectarian violence

Sri Lankan president moves to curb clashes between Buddhists and Muslims

Sri Lankan soldiers stand guard amid unrest in Digana, Kandy district. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

Sri Lankan soldiers stand guard amid unrest in Digana, Kandy district. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters


Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday declared a nationwide state of emergency for seven days in a bid to curb violence after clashes erupted between the country’s majority Buddhists and members of its Muslim minority.

Under the state of emergency, which was imposed for the first time since 2011, security forces can carry out searches without warrants and detain suspects without charges.

The move came after police said Sinhalese mobs targeted the properties of Muslims in central Sri Lanka, incensed by the death of a Sinhalese truck driver after a clash with Muslim youths in the central Kandy district on Sunday.

Some people were instigating violence through Facebook, the government said, warning of tough action against such people.

“The president has instructed the police to impartially, comprehensively and promptly deal with those engaged in criminal activities and those causing or attempting to cause ethnic and religious tensions, irrespective of their ethnic or religious identities and political affiliations,” said a statement issued by Sirisena’s office.

Tension has been growing between the two communities over the past year, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites.

Rohingya asylum seekers

Some Buddhist nationalists have also protested against the presence in Sri Lanka of Muslim Rohingya asylum seekers from mostly Buddhist Myanmar, where Buddhist nationalism has also been on the rise.

Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament that “political groups” were trying to incite hatred against Muslims.

Muslims make up about 9 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people. Buddhists comprise about 70 per cent and ethnic Tamils, most of whom are Hindus, about 13 per cent.

Analysts say the government has been alarmed by the speed with which the trouble spread in two districts of Kandy and sought to contain it through the imposition of a state of emergency.

The unrest in Kandy began on Sunday after the funeral of the Sinhalese truck driver, the government said.

It was not clear why the initial altercation occurred, but after the driver’s funeral a Sinhalese mob attacked Muslim shops, police said.

Early on Tuesday the body of a Muslim youth was found in a burnt-out shop, police also said.

Area residents have said more than 30 shops and houses were damaged while scores of mosques were also attacked after the government imposed a curfew on Monday. Police have reimposed the curfew until 6am on Wednesday local time. – Reuters