Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 June 2019

Sri Lankans hold Friday prayers after anti-Muslim riots

Heavy security provided for all mosques days after attacks triggered by Easter bombings

Sri Lankan security personnel guard a mosque in Colombo during Friday prayers on May 17, 2019, following anti-Muslim riots in parts of the country earlier in the week. AFP
Sri Lankan security personnel guard a mosque in Colombo during Friday prayers on May 17, 2019, following anti-Muslim riots in parts of the country earlier in the week. AFP

Sri Lankans from the minority Muslims community attended Friday prayers as heavily armed troops and police guarded all mosques, including those vandalised in riots in the wake of the Easter terror attacks.

Police said security would remain tight over the weekend for a major Buddhist festival as well as the 10th anniversary of the ending of the country's decades-long Tamil separatist war.

Clerics said some of the damaged mosques cleared out glass shards and other debris and conducted services with attendance at a high level.

"We had about 450 to 500 people," said M I M Siddeeque, the trustee of the riot-hit Kinyama mosque in the worst affected North-Western Province.

"There were six soldiers outside the mosques and many more police at the top of the road."

Mr Siddeeque said his mosque was cleared of the debris, but windows, furniture and the public address system were yet to be replaced.

In the town of Minuwangoda, the faithful packed the first floor of the two-storeyed Hujjaj mosque to pray even though repairs were yet to begin.

Local residents said Buddhists and Catholic priests were also present as a sign of solidarity with the Muslim community.

Police said there were no major incidents although sporadic clashes were reported from a handful of places.

"Police are firmly in control and the situation is fast returning to normality," a senior police official said. A nationwide night curfew was lifted on Thursday.

The riots came three weeks after suicide bomb attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo that killed 258 people. The April 21 attacks were blamed on a local extremist group.

This weekend Sri Lanka celebrates Vesak which marks the birth, enlightenment and the passing of the Buddha over 2,500 years ago on Saturday and Sunday.

The most important Buddhist celebration coincides this year with the country marking a decade since ending a 37-year-separatist insurgency by annihilating the entire leadership of Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

Sri Lankans pray during Friday noon prayers at a mosque in Colombo on May 17, 2019. AFP
Sri Lankans pray during Friday noon prayers at a mosque in Colombo on May 17, 2019. AFP

The head of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed 10 years ago on Saturday while the government declared an end to the war a day later.

President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are due to attend several ceremonies in and around Colombo on Sunday to pay tribute to more than 28,000 security personnel who died during the nearly four-decade-long war.

The minority Tamil community too is expected on Saturday to pay tribute to their war dead, including Tiger rebels, at low-key ceremonies in the north-eastern district of Mullaittivu where the final battles were fought.

Army chief Mahesh Senanayake said security forces would not obstruct any war remembrance by the Tamils. Under the previous regime, such ceremonies were outlawed.

Updated: May 17, 2019 03:20 PM

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