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Colombo mosque attack stirs tensions

Curfew lifted in neighbourhood of Sri Lankan city where violence erupted but security forces still on alert.

Last Modified: 11 Aug 2013 09:22
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Hundreds of security forces has been deployed to the Colombo area where violence erupted [AFP]

Sri Lankan police has lifted a curfew in a neighbourhood in Sri Lankan city of Colombo after a Buddhist-led mob attack on a mosque raised religious tensions and left the Muslim minority in fear.

Hundreds of security forces, including anti-riot squads and commandos, remain on alert in the Grandpass district on Sunday following violence on Saturday night that wounded at least four people.

"The curfew was lifted this morning, but we have a strong presence in the area," a police spokesman said.

There was no immediate reaction from the government to the violence, which followed Buddhist objections to the opening of the new mosque. However, Muslim religious leaders expressed concern.

"We were surprised because we thought things were settling down," Fazin Farook, spokesman for the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, Sri Lanka's apex body of religious leaders, told AFP news agency.

"With this attack, we are worried again and we see this [anti-Muslim] trend continuing. We condemn this attack."

Farook noted that the latest violence came five months after an anti-Muslim campaign culminated in the burning down of two Muslim-owned businesses just outside Colombo.

"We thought things were settling down since then. The government had also done a lot to calm the situation, but this incident came up suddenly and that has worried the community," Farook said.

Muslims concerned

The Sri Lanka Muslim Council, an umbrella organisation of Muslim civil society groups, also expressed concern.

The council said the attack occurred despite assurances from state authorities that the new mosque in the area could stay despite protests from a nearby Buddhist temple.

"There were police deployed to guard the mosque, but unfortunately the constables were unable to maintain law and order," NM Ameen, council president, said.

 

"The community is very worried and concerned about safety."

All four people injured in the attack, including two police constables guarding the mosque, remained in hospital Sunday.

In the violence on Saturday night, temple bells summoned dozens of men who stormed the mosque and started throwing stones and beating up worshippers, according to residents.

Several homes in the area were also damaged, residents also said.

A security official said Buddhists had objected to the new mosque which had been established to replace their older place of worship earmarked for demolition to make way for new construction.

"The Buddhist temple had objected to the relocation of the mosque and the troubles started during Saturday evening prayers of the mosque," the official said, asking not to be be named.

Three Buddhist monks and 14 others who were arrested in connection with the arson attacks in March on Muslim-owned businesses were later freed as police and the victims did not press charges.

Seventy percent of Sri Lanka's 20 million population follow Buddhism, while Muslims are the second largest religious minority with just under 10 percent after Hindus who make up about 13 percent.

Others are Christian.

501

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