Muslims close Sri Lanka mosque after Buddhist unrest

Muslims close Sri Lanka mosque after Buddhist unrest

COLOMBO - Sri Lanka's Muslim leaders closed down a new mosque in Colombo on Monday after attacks by a Buddhist mob revived simmering religious tensions and sparked US concern.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Council said it had agreed to shut its Grandpass mosque and move to an older place of worship which the government had earlier earmarked for demolition as part of the city's development.

"We have a compromise deal worked out last night," Council President N. M. Ameen told AFP.

"The government will rescind the order acquiring the old mosque premises and will grant more land and help with renovations and improvements."

"From today, we are out of the new mosque."

Buddhist-led mobs vandalised the new mosque, including pelting stones at the building in Colombo's Grandpass area on Saturday, wounding at least four people. Sporadic clashes also erupted on Sunday despite a heavy police presence in the neighbourhood.

Local Buddhists had objected to the setting up of the new Grandpass mosque near a Buddhist temple even though it was built to replace the older mosque earmarked for demolition in line with city works.

A night curfew was lifted at dawn on Monday, a police spokesman said, adding that the situation was calm and no fresh incidents had been reported since the government announced the closure on Sunday night.

The violence comes after Buddhist hardliners attacked several Muslim-run businesses outside the capital in March, the latest in a series of incidents targeting the minority group.

The government held lengthy talks with Muslim and Buddhist leaders and announced what Technology Minister Champika Ranawaka described as a "just solution" acceptable to all sides.

"The settlement we reached today is for the mosque to move back to its original position," Ranawaka told reporters. The government rescinded an order that required the demolition of the old building, he added.

"Through a just solution, we have now peacefully solved the issue," the minister said.

The US embassy in Colombo has expressed concern at the violence and urged authorities to prosecute those responsible.

The US, which in March initiated a UN Human Rights Council resolution against Sri Lanka over alleged war crimes against Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009, also urged Colombo to ensure religious freedom.

Seventy percent of Sri Lanka's 20 million-strong population are Buddhists, while Muslims are the second largest religious group making up just under 10 percent.

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