Sri Lanka declares state of emergency after anti-Muslim riots

6 March 2018, 15:26

A nationwide state of emergency has been declared in Sri Lanka following anti-Muslim riots that have killed at least two people.

Dozens of mosques and homes were damaged on Monday night as crowds went on a rampage, sparking fears that communal violence could spread.

The body of a 24-year-old man was pulled from the ashes of a burned building, and at least 11 Muslim-owned shops were torched by predominantly Sinhalese Buddhist rioters.

The outbreak followed the death of a Sinhalese man believed to have been killed by a group of Muslims, following growing tensions between the groups across the last year.

"At a special cabinet meeting, it was decided to declare a state of emergency for 10 days to prevent the spread of communal riots," government spokesman Dayasiri Jayasekara said.

Heavily armed police units have been deployed in the central district of Kandy, a tourist area famed for its tea plantations and Buddhist sites.

Lakshman Kiriella, a legislator from Kandy, told parliament that the attacks were carried out by outsiders.

"I am ashamed as a Buddhist and we must apologise to the Muslims," he said.

Muslims make up about 10% of Sri Lanka's population, while the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese population constitute nearly three-quarters of the island state's 21 million people.

The country remains divided after a 1983-2009 civil war between the government and separatists from the minority Tamil population.

In a tweet, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the government condemned the "racist and violent acts" of the last few days.

"As a nation that endured a brutal war we are all aware of the values of peace, respect, unity and freedom," he said.

The region of Kandy saw similar violence in late February, and in 2014 violence between Buddhists and Muslims, instigated by a Buddhist extremist group, resulted in four deaths.