Sri Lanka declares state of emergency

Tensions between Sinhalese Buddhists and Muslims erupt into biggest unrest since civil war

A state of emergency has not existed in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war
(Image credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Sri Lanka has declared its first nationwide state of emergency since the end of the civil war almost a decade ago, following days of violence between the Sinhalese Buddhist and Muslim communities.

The move, which allows soldiers to be deployed to civilian areas and widens police powers to detain suspects, is only a temporary measure and would have to be ratified by parliament if it were to be extended beyond the current 10-day cut off period.

It follows weeks of unrest between the majority Sinhalese, who make up about 75% of the population, and minority Muslims, who make up about 10%.

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There have been reports of riots and arson attacks in the central region of Kandy where Buddhist mobs have set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and mosques, after a Sinhalese man was killed. Sources told Al Jazeera the violence was spreading throughout the country.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the violence “appeared to be systemic and organised” and promised parliament his government would take “stern action” to quell the violence.

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Tensions between the sides “have existed for decades but have become more acute since the end of the civil war” in 2009, says The Guardian.

The Indian Ocean island endured a devastating 28-year-civil war between the government and Tamil separatists in the north.

Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka specialist with the International Crisis Group, told The Guardian: “Many have argued that it [the inter-communal violence] is a product of the search for a new enemy to replace the Tamils, unite the Sinhala and win votes by cultivating a sense of Sinhala Buddhists under siege.”

The Times of India says Buddhist monks and hard-line Sinhala groups “accuse Muslims of expansionism, forceful conversions and of trying to undermine the majority community”.

There are fears the latest violence orchestrated by radical Buddhist groups has been stoked by former president and Sinhala nationalist Mahinda Rajapaksa, who made huge gains in municipal elections last year following his shock election defeat in 2015.

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