Hikkaduwa (AsiaNews) - Sri Lankan police identified 24 people, including eight Buddhist monks, involved in attacks against two independent Christian churches in Hikkaduwa, a tourist resort in the south of the country.
The daytime attack took place on Sunday. Led by Buddhist monks, a mob gathered outside the two religious centres to demand that they be closed.
Quickly, the demonstration degenerated as protesters broke through the security ring set up by police and attacked the buildings.
Police admitted that they were unable to contain the mob that surrounded the two independent churches, the Calvary Free Church and the Assemblies of God, throwing stones and bricks.
After smashing doors and windows, the mob broke into the buildings, setting fire to religious symbols and books, including some Bibles.
According to the Buddhist monks who led the attackers, local authorities had ordered the two churches to shut down because they lacked the necessary permit.
However, the pastors in charge of the two centres said their churches were duly registered with the authorities and were therefore entitled to continue their activities.
Such attacks are fuelling a climate of religious intolerance towards minorities, boosted by growing Buddhist nationalism among Sri Lanka's majority Sinhala.
Two Buddhist radical groups have been especially responsible for a number of attacks against Muslims and Christians: Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force or BBS) and the Sinhala Ravaya (Sinhalese roar). Both claim that their mission is to protect Sinhalese Buddhists.
Sri Lanka has a population of 21.6 million people. Of these, 73.8 per cent are ethnic Sinhala.
The nation's official religion is Buddhism, which is practiced by 69.1 per cent of the population.
With just 7.9 per cent, Muslims are the country's second religious group, made up mostly of ethnic Tamils.