SOCIAL MEDIA ‘FAKE NEWS’ TRIGGERS NEW SRI LANKA RIOTS
TROOPS in Sri Lanka patrolled a coastal town last Sunday (19) after nearly 90 homes were damaged and several cars set alight in violence between the island’s Sinhalese and Muslim communities.
Police said the violence last Friday (17) in the southern coastal town of Ginthota was triggered by rumours and fake messages on social media.
“This was a clash between a small fraction of extremists in both ethnic groups,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.
One of those arrested was a woman who falsely spread news that Muslims were about to attack a Buddhist temple, he added.
The army and navy were deployed to reinforce local police as the situation spiralled out of control over the weekend with at least five people hospitalised and close to 90 buildings damaged in the rioting.
The town remained tense and under lockdown throughout Saturday (18) evening, but at dawn a curfew imposed on previous days was lifted.
“We have called for a complete report about damages and all the victims will be compensated by the state,” home minister Vajira Abeywardena said.
Security forces and police would remain in place until law and order had been restored, he added.
Police said 19 people were arrested in connection with the weekend riots and the authorities were looking for more suspects.
Muslims account for about 10 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people, the second-largest minority group after Tamils.
Sinhalese – a largely-Buddhist ethnic group – make up more than 70 per cent of the population.
Tension has been growing between the two communities this year, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites.
Some Buddhists nationalists have also protested against the presence in Sri Lanka of asylum seekers from mostly Buddhist Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.
Meanwhile, law and order minister Sagala Ratnayaka blamed local politicians for attempting to exploit the unrest. “Some political groups are now on a desperate mission to turn this minor brawl into a Sinhala-Muslim clash. I urge the public not to be misled by their false propaganda,” the minister said.
Authorities said they were keen to avoid a repeat of violence seen in June 2014 when four people were killed and several injured in clashes between the two communities in the same region.
That unrest was blamed on a radical Buddhist extremist group whose leaders are currently facing several court cases for instigating inter-faith violence. (Agencies)