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Monday, 7 May, 2001, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Religious violence spreads in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan army troops
The army had to be deployed to restore order
Inter-religious violence in Sri Lanka has continued with Muslim men setting fire to shops in the north-east of the country, it is reported.

If this trend is not arrested, the SLMC will lose its moral obligation to continue its support to the government

Muslim party statement
The Ministry of Defence on Monday said Muslim men had set alight eight shops belonging to members of the Sinhalese community in the town of Muttur overnight.

Sri Lanka's main Muslim party is now warning that it will withdraw its support from the government unless violence against Muslims is not ended.

The news came as President Chandrika Kumaratunga marked the Buddhist festival of Vesak by appealing for national unity.

"If this anti-Muslim trend is not arrested immediately, the SLMC (Sri Lanka Muslim Congress) will lose its moral obligation to continue its support to the government," the SLMC said in a statement.

Curfew lifted

As well as the violence in Muttur, Muslims in the neighbouring district of Batticaloa blocked traffic by setting light to tyres, the Defence Ministry said.

On Saturday the government lifted a night-time curfew in the capital, Colombo, imposed following clashes between police and Muslim protesters.

The clashes erupted shortly after Friday prayers at a mosque in the capital.

Those attending the prayers protested over violence in the central Sri Lankan town of Mawanella last week, when one man was killed and 20 others wounded after the police opened fire.

The army was used to restore order.

Emergency laws

Officials said more than a dozen people were wounded and many more private cars and buses were damaged during the rioting.

The government has announced it will use tough emergency laws to deal with trouble makers.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga
Kumaratunga: 'Tolerance forgotten'
The authorities fear that violence in the capital may spread to ethnically mixed regions in and around the city.

Muslims are Sri Lanka's second largest minority after Tamils.

With Tamil separatists already battling for a separate state in the country, the government is anxious to keep the lid on further ethnic discontent.

Government authorities say the situation appeared to be under control, but the curfew was a precautionary measure.

In her Vesak address, President Kumaratunga said the basic problem confronting Sri Lanka was that "we have forgotten the principles of spreading kindness, compassion, tolerance and friendliness towards each other".

Seventy per cent of Sri Lanka's population is Buddhist.

More than 60,000 people are estimated to have died during the protracted civil war in which the Tamil Tigers are fighting for an independent homeland.

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See also:

16 May 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka: The ethnic divide
27 Apr 01 | South Asia
Casualties mount in Sri Lanka
16 Sep 00 | South Asia
Key minister killed in Sri Lanka crash
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