New Straits Times
EMERGENCY IN SRI LANKA
Curfews imposed, commandos deployed in tourist district after riots
SRI Lanka yesterday declared a nationwide state of emergency after riots targeting Muslims left at least two people dead and homes ablaze in a hill station popular with tourists.
The government said it was imposing the extraordinary measures after police failed to curb violence in Kandy, a central district famed for its tea plantations and Buddhist relics.
Heavily-armed police commandos were deployed to restore order in Kandy after rioters defied an overnight curfew.
“The government is taking all possible measures to protect the people, especially Muslims,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament.
He said an inquiry had also been opened into security lapses by police that allowed mobs of Sinhalese rioters to burn mosques, as well as Muslim homes and businesses.
The body of a 24-year-old Muslim man was pulled out of a burnt home yesterday. Police said two dozen people had been arrested in the wake of the riots.
The emergency measures, imposed for the first time since 2011, gave authorities sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods, and deploy forces where needed.
President Maithripala Sirisena said the measures would “redress the unsatisfactory security situation prevailing in certain parts of the country.”
Sri Lanka’s Parliament yesterday issued an apology to its Muslim minority, which constituted 10 per cent of the country’s population of 21 million.
The unrest began on Sunday after the funeral of a Sinhalese truck driver, who died days after an altercation with four Muslims.
It was not clear why the initial altercation occurred but after the driver’s funeral on Monday, a Sinhalese mob attacked Muslim shops, police said.
Hakeem said the riots were concentrated in Kandy, but the government wanted to send a strong message following recent outbreaks of communal violence elsewhere in the country.
Mobs set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and attacked a mosque in the east of the country last week after a Muslim chef was accused of adding contraceptives to food sold to Sinhalese customers.
The government dismissed the allegation as baseless and ordered the arrest of those fomenting unrest in the area.