A mosque in Sri Lanka has been forced to abandon its Friday prayers amid community tensions in the central town of Dambulla.

About 2,000 Buddhists, including monks, marched to the mosque and held a demonstration demanding its demolition, along with a Hindu temple being built in an area designated as a Buddhist sacred zone. 

Monk Inamaluwe Sri Sumangala Thera told the AP news agency that the construction area was inside the zone and that erecting houses of worship for other religions there was illegal.

 

He demanded the authorities stop the construction immediately.

Shortly after the protest, the mosque was evacuated under police protection and its Friday prayers cancelled.

Many Buddhists regard Dambulla as a sacred town and in recent months there had been other sectarian tensions in the area.

Last September a monk led a crowd to demolish a Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura, not far from Dambulla.

M Rahmathullah, a trustee of the mosque, disputed the Buddhist claim.

"We do not agree to their claim. The mosque was in the area for more than 50 years," said Rahmathullah.

Overnight the mosque had been targeted by a fire bombing, but nobody was hurt.

Buddhism is the religion of the majority of Sri Lanka's 20 million people.

About 74 per cent are Sinhalese, who are mostly Buddhists, while about 18 per cent are Tamils, who are predominantly Hindus or Christians. About seven per cent of the total population are Muslims.

Source: Agencies