Sri Lanka boosts security after anti-Muslim attack

 

29/Mar/2013

Source: AFP

Elite police commandos patrolled a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital Friday after hundreds of rampaging Buddhist hardliners torched a Muslim-owned business in the latest in a series of mob attacks.

At least three people were wounded when mobs from the ethnic Sinhalese majority stoned and later set fire to a clothing store in Pepiliyana on Thursday night, police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said.

“We have deployed extra units of STF (Special Task Force commandos) and police to guard the area,” Siriwardena told AFP. “The situation was brought under control within a few hours.”

No arrests had been made, Siriwardena said.

The authorities have not declared a motive for the attack, but official sources said it appeared to be part of the ongoing targeting of minority Muslim businesses by a group of Sinhala-Buddhist hardliners.

The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella organisation of Muslim groups, said tensions had been heightened by Thursday’s attack.

“It has created a fear psychosis among the Muslims,” council president NM Ameen told AFP. “We know a majority of the (Buddhist) people do not support this type of activity.”

Hundreds of men smashed parked vehicles, stormed the Fashion Bug store and set fire to merchandise before escaping, witnesses told AFP.

Army units were called in to disperse the mob as tension gripped the area.

The attack came a day after Sri Lankan police set up a hotline to tackle complaints about anyone suspected of “inciting religious or racial hatred”.

Mobs hurled stones at another Muslim-owned clothing chain near Colombo in January while Muslim businessmen have also complained of random stone-throwing, intimidation and calls for the boycott of their shops.

Buddhist hardliners last month forced Islamic clerics to withdraw “halal” certification from food sold in the local market, saying it was offensive to the majority non-Muslim population.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is a Buddhist, urged monks earlier this year not to incite religious hatred and violence.

The United Nations estimates that Sri Lanka’s ethnic civil war claimed at least 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009, when Tamil rebels were crushed in a major military offensive.

Less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million are Muslim. The majority are Sinhalese Buddhist, while most Tamils are Hindu.


Indonesians Mark Easter Outdoors After Church Closures

 

31/Mar/2013

Source  : AFP

More than 200 Indonesian Christians on Sunday held an Easter service in front of the presidential palace, demanding the government stop church closures in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

Amid hooting cars and other traffic noise, men, women and toddlers sang hymns and said prayers in a two-hour service that also served as a protest against the lack of protection for religious minorities.

The worshipers came from three areas on the outskirts of Jakarta where local government officials shut churches, citing community opposition or the lack of proper building permits.

Rights activists have said local governments are using the permit issue as an excuse to kowtow to religious hard-liners, with churches and Islamic minorities bearing the brunt of attacks.

They say mosque building permits are rarely challenged.

“We are here to show the president and the world that law enforcement, constitutional supremacy and protection of minority groups are not as sweet as the president had claimed,” said Bona Sigalingging, a spokesman for GKI Yasmin church.

“We urge President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to stop staying silent and uncaring of the rampant violations of freedom of religion in Indonesia,” the congregation said in a statement.

Ninety percent of Indonesia’s 240 million people identify themselves as Muslim but the constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

Among those worshiping near the palace Sunday were members of the HKBP Taman Sari church, whose building was pulled down by the Bekasi district administration on March 21.

“The Easter celebration this year, including Good Friday, touched our hearts more than before because now our church is in ruins,” Panahatan Siregar of the Taman Sari church told AFP.

Rights group Setara Institute of Peace and Democracy says cases of intolerance are on the rise, with 543 reported in 2011 compared to 491 in 2009. More than 300 incidents were recorded in the first half of 2012.


Sri Lanka: Crowd attacks Muslim warehouse in Colombo

29/Mar/2013

Source: BBC News

 

Several people have been injured in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, when Buddhist monks led hundreds in an assault on a Muslim-owned clothing warehouse.

Buddhist monks were filmed throwing stones at the storage centre of popular garment chain Fashion Bug in a suburb of the capital on Thursday night.

Police told AFP news agency that forces had been deployed to guard the area.

The attack comes as hard-line Buddhist groups step up a campaign against the lifestyles of Muslims.

The government’s Minister for Justice Rauff Hakeem, himself a Muslim, urged the prime minister to call an urgent cabinet meeting to discuss the security of Muslims following these attacks.

These developments come four years after the army in the mainly Sinhalese Buddhist country defeated Tamil separatists.

During Sri Lanka’s bitter civil war the Muslims – a small Tamil-speaking minority, about 9% of the population – kept a low profile, but many now fear that ethnic majority hard-liners are trying to target them.

The BBC’s Charles Haviland in Colombo said the monks led a crowd which quickly swelled to about 500, yelling insults against the shop’s Muslim owners and rounding on journalists seeking to cover the events.

Five or six were injured, including a cameraman who needed stitches.

Eyewitnesses said the police stood and watched although after the trouble spread they brought it under control.

“We have deployed extra units of STR (Special Task Force commandos) and police to guard the area,” police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

“The situation was brought under control within a few hours,” he said, adding that no arrests had been made.

Television footage showed broken glass and clothing from the warehouse strewn in the street.

Hard-line Buddhist groups led by monks also sent around a text this week urging people to boycott Muslim shops when stocking up for the forthcoming Sri Lankan New Year festival.

After some Muslim groups called a strike in protest against a growing Buddhist campaign against their lifestyle, including halal food classification, a hard-line Buddhist party in the governing coalition issued a statement saying: “Sinhalese Buddhists should be determined to teach such Muslim extremists a lesson that they will never forget”.

The assault comes a day after police set up a hot-line to tackle complaints about anyone “inciting religious or racial hatred hatred”.