Sri Lanka police face media flak over anti-Muslim riots

Sri Lanka police face media flak over anti-Muslim riots
Sri Lankan firemen put out a fire at a Muslim-owned clothing store in Panadura on June 21, 2014. Police say the fire that completely destroyed the “No Limit” store was under investigation, coming less than a week after anti-Muslim riots that left four people dead and some 80 wounded in the same district

COLOMBO - Sri Lanka's media showed rare unity in condemning police Sunday for their failure to control anti-Muslim Buddhist extremists as religious tensions grow in the wake of riots in the island's south.

A day after a Muslim-owned shop was burnt down outside the capital Colombo, the privately-run The Nation weekly took the unusual step of publishing its editorial as the main story on its front page, with the blunt headline: "The IGP (Inspector-General of Police) must resign".

Other media joined in blasting police for failing to rein in a hardline Buddhist group known as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS or the Buddhist Force), blamed for much of the unrest.

They pointed the finger at the extremist monks for the anti-Muslim riots that erupted a week ago, leaving four people dead, 80 wounded and hundreds of homes and shops destroyed.

"Arrest him," the Sunday Leader newspaper demanded in a headline, referring to the head of the BBS, Galagodaatte Gnanasara, who has publicly denied causing trouble.

Sri Lanka's Sunday Times said the burning down of a Muslim-owned clothing store outside Colombo on Saturday "is an indication that some people might want this violence to spread".

Sri Lankan police were investigating the cause of the blaze, which Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem, the most senior Muslim in President Mahinda Rajapakse's cabinet, described Saturday as an arson attack.

The Sunday Times said a majority of Buddhists in the country did not support the extremist views of the few monks who were behind the hate campaign, and that they should be dealt with before the unrest escalates further.

Some media reports also suggested that patronage by senior government figures may have held police back from acting against the BBS.

Justice Minister Hakeem has asked the government to order an independent probe into the riots since last week.

Hakeem, in a statement issued on Saturday night, blamed the government for failing to control the BBS.

"Irrespective of who is responsible for the terrible events that unfolded... none would dispute that it was a serious dislocation of the ability of the state to maintain the rule of law," Hakeem said after an emergency meeting Saturday with Rajapakse.

The president has said he is ordering a probe into "recent disturbances".

Muslims account for about 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's 20 million population, who are mainly Buddhist.

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