By Dharisha Bastians
- Bodu Bala Sena rally spikes major rioting in Aluthgama, Beruwala areas
- Indefinite police curfews imposed in Aluthgama and Beruwala
- Mosques, houses, shops attacked as mobs break curfew
Police curfews were declared in two Kalutara District towns last night, after communal tensions flared in the restive area following a rally held by a hardline Buddhist group in Aluthgama town.
An indefinite police curfew was in place from 6:45 p.m. after a Bodu Bala Sena rally in the tense town of Aluthgama yesterday went predictably south, with clashes erupting when parts of a mob in procession attempted to stone a mosque in the Dhargatown area.
Images of property on fire and thick black smoke spiralling into the skies in Aluthgama emerged last night and orders went out to police across the island to strengthen security for mosques and Muslim prayer centres in their areas. About 1,200 police personnel, including 400 STF, were deployed in Aluthgama to maintain order yesterday.
With the unrest spreading, police also declared curfew in the adjoining Beruwala police division, an area with a large concentration of Muslims in residence.
Police Spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana said that unrest had been reported in Beruwala and that curfew had been imposed, but refused to confirm any attacks. The Bodu Bala Sena rally was permitted to go ahead, despite entreaties by Muslim ministers and Muslim civil society groups, who urged authorities to prevent the meeting because tensions had already flared on Thursday following an allegation that several Muslim youth had assaulted a Buddhist monk and his driver in Aluthgama.
Bodu Bala Sena General Secretary Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero addressing the rally in Aluthgama yesterday, referred to Muslims in derogatory terms and accused sections of the Government of being in collaboration with the Muslim Community. "They keep calling us racist and religious extremists. Yes, we are racists," he charged as the crowd cheered him on. "This country still has a Sinhala police. A Sinhala army. If a single Sinhalese is touched, that will be the end of all them," he screamed.
Correspondents in the area said it was not clear which side had started the clashes in Aluthgama, but described the situation as being war-like moments later.
Over 10 shops in the Dhargatown area in Aluthgama were torched, with police and Special Task Force personnel firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the mobs, to no avail.
Houses in the Kotapitiya, Meeri Penna and Adhikarigoda areas in Aluthgama were also set on fire, with Muslim residents fleeing their homes to take sanctuary in several mosques in Dhargatown. Some injuries were also reported from Dhargatown, but the reports were unconfirmed at the time of going to press.
Several photographers and videographers filming yesterday’s chaotic scenes were assaulted by the mob, reports said. Several hours after the curfew was imposed, the tension in the area continued.
Eyewitnesses said the STF was deployed in large numbers and helped to restore some calm in the area.
Deputy Minister Faiszer Mustapha, who urged the authorities to prevent the Bodu Bala Sena rally from taking place from Japan (see box), rushed to the Aluthgama area last night.
Muslim families gathered at the Dhargatown Marikkar Street Mosque and several other mosques in the area, as homes came under attack by violent mobs, who continued to move about despite the curfew in force.
Shops came under attack in the Beruwala area at 9 PM, in spite of the police curfew, according to sources in the area. Crowds of people were on the March again in Aluthgama by 9 p.m., with police warning Muslim residents to stay indoors. Fixed line telephones in several areas of Aluthgama also went dead late last night.
Despite the widespread rioting and tension, the Government was yet to release an official statement calling for calm, at the time of going to press.
President tweets for calm from Bolivia
President Mahinda Rajapaksa on a state visit to Bolivia late last night tweeted that the Government would not allow anyone to take the law into their own hands.
“I urge all parties concerned to act in restraint,” President Rajapaksa tweeted on the Aluthgama unrest. He said an investigation will be held for the law to take its course of action and to bring to book those responsible for incidents in Aluthgama.
Early warnings ignored?
A delegation of Muslim organisations met with Western Province DIG Anura Senanayake in Kalutara yesterday to hold discussions about security in the area, the Daily FT learns. Police assured the organisations that they would ensure maximum security in the area.
Deputy Minister of Investment Promotion Faiszer Mustapha, who was in Japan last week, wrote to the Secretary of the Ministry of Law and Order, Maj. Gen. Nanda Mallawararachchi urging him to prevent the Bodu Bala Sena rally from taking place, sources said.
In a letter to IGP N.K. Illangakoon, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, the Wakf Board of Sri Lanka, the All Ceylon YMMA and the Colombo Masjid Federation said that “extremist organisations” Bodu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya had organised a rally in Aluthgama to protest against an alleged attack on a Buddhist priest in the area last Thursday.
“This is a dangerous situation that could develop into a major riot, hence we call upon you to take immediate and decisive action to safeguard the lives and property of Muslims in Aluthgama and surrounding areas,” stated the letter to the IGP, that was also copied to DIG Anura Senanayake yesterday.