Violence between Buddhists and Muslims in southern Sri Lanka has left three people dead and at least another 78 seriously injured, the justice minister says.
Police have imposed a curfew after rampaging Buddhist mobs late on Sunday razed a number of Muslim-owned homes and businesses in the popular tourist town of Alutgama, around 60km south of the capital Colombo.
“Three deaths have occurred,” Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem told reporters in Alutgama on Monday, blaming hardline Buddhist mobs for the violence.
Hakeem, who represents the minority Muslim community in the cabinet, made the comments as he inspected the damage from the violence.
Authorities said the curfew would stay in place for a second night running in Alutgama and the neighbouring resort of Beruwala, a predominantly Muslim region.
Hakeem said he was under pressure from his own supporters to quit the government to protest the failure of police to prevent the rioting.
Local Muslims have accused the police of failing to protect them when followers of the extremist Buddhist Force – better known as BBS – started setting fire to businesses on Sunday evening.
Police fired teargas and imposed a curfew but were unable to prevent several dozen shops and homes being attacked.
Both areas are popular beach resorts frequented by international tourists, but there were no reports of any foreigners or hotels being caught up in the violence.
The attacks are the latest in a series of religious clashes to hit the island following unrest in January and also last year.
Muslim legislators have asked President Mahinda Rajapakse to protect their minority community from “Buddhist extremist elements” blamed for the hate attacks.
Muslims make up about 10 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million population.
Nationalist Buddhist groups have in turn accused religious minorities of wielding undue political and economic influence on the island.