By Dharisha Bastians
- IGP, Special Police Unit head to the area to diffuse tensions
- Riot police use tear gas used to disperse crowds
- Tension sparked by alleged assault on monk’s driver and monk
- Mob claims police of failed to act swiftly against Muslim youths accused of assault
- Minister’s vehicle, several Muslim owned shops attacked
Chaotic scenes unfolded in Aluthgama last evening with riot police using tear gas in efforts to disperse a violent mob, after ethno-religious tensions flared in the town leading to several assaults, arrests and damage to property.
Police Spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana told Daily FT that three persons had been arrested after the driver of a car carrying a Buddhist monk was allegedly assaulted, which subsequently led to an assault on the monk. The incident was sparked by a traffic accident, police sources said.
Angry mobs surrounded the police station and attacked several Muslim-owned shops in the area with stones and other objects, prompting police to use tear gas on the crowd. Buddhist monks were among the protesters, claiming that the police had failed to act against the Muslim youth being accused of attacking the monk and his driver.
Police officers had also been pelted with stones by the mob, reports from the area said.
Large contingents of riot police and Special Task Force personnel were deployed in the area to control the situation. Transport
Minister Kumara Welgama arrived on the scene and his vehicle was also pelted with stones by the angry mob.
Inspector General of Police N.K. Illangakoon travelled to the area last night together with a special police team to try to control the crowd. The IGP is reported to have told residents that a police curfew would not be imposed since it was Poson Poya day.
Reports from the town last night claimed that several youth were gathering at the Pathirajagoda temple in Dharga Town and several other villages in Aluthgama.
Ethnic tensions have been running high in the area over the past two months.
On 8 May, a Muslim-owned shopping centre in Aluthgama was set on fire after a rival Sinhala owned shop allegedly mobilised people in the area. A complaint had been filed against the brother of the shop owner, charging that he had molested a young child who had entered the shop with his mother. However, the magistrate released the suspect on bail, after finding no evidence on the CCTV footage at the store to prove the charges against the suspect. Following his release, the mob attacked the shop, causing millions in damages.