COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - For the first time since 2011, Sri Lanka was forced to declare a state of emergency in the country after violent clashes broke out between the country’s Buddhist majority and the Muslim community.
On Tuesday, the country declared a state of emergency after the latest outbreak of violence between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority and the Muslim community.
The announcement came after attacks took place in the island’s second city of Kandy over the weekend.
Local media reported that Muslim-owned businesses were set alight following the funeral of a lorry driver allegedly killed by Muslim youths.
The attack came days after anti-Muslim violence swept the eastern town of Ampara.
On Tuesday, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe tweeted, “The government condemns the racist & violent acts that have taken place over the last few days. A state of emergency has been declared & we will not hesitate to take further action.”
While the declaration marked the first return to emergency regulations since 2011, the government has not specified how long it would last.
In 2011, the Sri Lankan government lifted measures that had lasted for 28 years, prompted by a civil war against Tamil separatists in the country’s north and east.
In 2009, the government managed to secure a comprehensive victory, even though thousands of civilians were killed in the final stages of the war.
According to Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, the previous state of emergency had been abused by governments to pursue unwarranted authoritarian measures, but that concerns of similar moves by the current administration seemed unwarranted.
Perera argued it would enable the army to respond more swiftly to mob violence and said, “I see this as hopefully a very temporary measure. This is a serious problem — there is a sense of menace and mobs are on the move. [The announcement] sends a good signal to those trying to foster the violence that the government is serious and will crack down hard.”
In recent years, the country’s Muslim community, which accounts for about 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million population, has been the victim of several outbreaks of mob violence.
Perera pointed out, “Under the former government, the idea grew that the Muslims were increasing in strength, expanding in population and business presence, and therefore a threat to the dominance of the Sinhalese.”
On Tuesday, reports stated that dozens of mosques and homes were damaged overnight as crowds went on a rampage, sparking fears that communal violence could spread.
Further, local officials said that the body of a 24-year-old man was pulled from the ashes of a burned building, and at least 11 Muslim-owned shops were torched by predominantly Sinhalese Buddhist rioters.
The outbreak came after the death of a Sinhalese man believed to have been killed by a group of Muslims, following growing tensions between the groups across the last year.
Following the declaration of emergency, heavily armed police units were deployed in the central district of Kandy, a tourist area famed for its tea plantations and Buddhist sites.