Soldiers guard mosques in tense Sri Lanka

Isaac Cain
March 12, 2018

The government of Sri Lanka ordered internet and mobile service providers to temporarily block Facebook and its subsidiaries WhatsApp and Instagram, as well as separate messaging service Viber, this week as part of a crackdown on what officials said was rampant online hate speech fuelling real-life violence.

They named the main suspect as Amith Weerasinghe, a man from the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority known for anti-Muslim activism and outspoken social media posts, and said he was taken into custody on Thursday.

On March 6, Sri Lanka's government declared a nationwide 10-day state of emergency as mob attacks targeted the country's Muslim minorities.

Police reimposed a curfew in Kandy from 8 p.m. on Friday until 5 a.m. on Saturday.

A 24-hour curfew was imposed on Wednesday afternoon after a hand grenade exploded in the hands of an attacker, killing him and wounding 11 others, officials said.

Police said the main instigator of the riots was arrested on Thursday along with 145 others.

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As the army plans to undertake reconstruction of the destroyed Muslim-owned shops and business establishments, Lt. Gen. Senanayake said that a strategy to get all communities in the villages, especially the majority Sinhala, involved in the reconstruction will help heal wounds caused by the recent mayhem.

In 2014, violence directed against Muslim minority groups broke out in the southwestern town of Aluthgama, following a rally by hardline Buddhist nationalist monks, resulting in the death of at least three Muslims.

Sri Lankan police have been accused of failing to protect the island's minority.

"Police constables had been deployed to guard the area, but it looks like they were not at the location when the attack took place", a senior police officer said adding that disciplinary action will be taken against those responsible. Tensions escalated when the body of a Muslim man was found in a burnt out building in the Kandy district on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka's Muslims make up about 9 percent of its 21 million people and mostly live in the east and centre of the island.

Buddhist Sinhalese account for about 70% and ethnic Tamils, most of whom are Hindus, about 13%.

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