Colombo (AsiaNews) - Clashes that broke out on Sunday in southern Sri Lanka have left at least four people dead and 91 injured, including a week-old baby. A mosque was also destroyed whilst dozens of homes and shops were burnt to the ground. Militants from the radical Buddhist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) carried out the attacks. All the victims were Muslim.
Some Christian religious leaders who spoke to AsiaNews expressed their "outrage, condemning the brutal attack against our Muslim brothers."
"The government should take responsibility for this violence," they added, "because the security forces remained silent when this was happening."
Today, in the eastern province, thousands of Muslims staged a strike (hartal) to get the government to ban the BBS, which is also known as the "Buddhist Brigade."
According to preliminary reports, it all started after a rally held on Sunday in Aluthgama by Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero, a Buddhist monk who leads the BBS.
At the end of the meeting, people moved towards the local mosque, where about 2,000 Muslims were praying, and launched an attack.
It is not clear when police intervened to disperse the extremists. However, despite the curfew imposed by the government in the two cities, clashes continued yesterday.
"We must ask forgiveness from our Muslim brothers and sisters since the BBS (who attacked them) and the police, the army and politicians (who allowed this to happen) have not done it yet," said Fr Marimuttu Sathivel, an Anglican priest and a member of the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM).
Fr Ashok Stephen, a Catholic priest and director of the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR), spoke to AsiaNews criticising the police for its behaviour.
"The police," he said, "are always very zealous in cracking down on even the smallest anti-government event organised by university students. Yet they hardly take any measures to prevent such violence and are silent when this kind of murders take place."
The Bodu Bala Sena is a radical Buddhist movement, whose mission is to "protect" the Sinhalese Buddhist community.
The Sinhalese are Sri Lanka's main ethnic group (73.8 per cent), followed by Tamils (about 8 per cent).
Buddhism is the country's official religion and is practiced by 69.1 per cent of the population. Islam is the second largest religion (7.6 per cent), followed by Hinduism (7.1 per cent) and Christianity (6.2 per cent).