Sri Lankans protest 'state terrorism' after religious clashes

COLOMBO , Sri Lanka - "Sinhalese blood is red; Tamil blood is red and Muslim blood is red", "Gnanasara is a murderer; Gotabhaya is a murderer," were the chants belted out by angry protesters in Sri Lanka's capital Colombo on Wednesday.

They were protesting against communal violence that killed three Muslims in the southwestern coastal towns of Dharga, Aluthgama and Beruwala on Sunday.

Messages against religious extremism and divisive identity politics were plastered across banners and delivered by the rally's speakers. Worries about a return to communalism were clear at the protest organized by the Movement for Equal Rights, which was established soon after the end of Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war to maintain peace and harmony among various communities.

"The government is trying to cause ethnic disharmony among communities. We should not leave room for it to take the lead, rather, we have to fight collectively," the movement's convenor Ravindra Mudalige told the Anadolu Agency. "State terrorism should be condemned, and future violence against minorities should be prevented."

Sunday's violence started after hardline Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists Bodu Bala Sena held a protest in Aluthgama, where the leader Galagodatthe Gnanasara reportedly spoke about the "end for Muslims," before trying to march through predominantly Muslim areas. 

"Ban Bodu Bala Sena immediately," was one of the chants, as was "Who wants to restart the war?" "Who benefits from the war?" -- a reminder of how ethnic violence quickly ignited fears of war in Sri Lanka. 

A section of angry protesters also demanded that Sri Lankan Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem, the head of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, resign immediately. After the clashes, Hakeem had himself spoken of how he was "ashamed" that he could not protect Muslims.

People from all walks of life -- farmers, fishermen, students, workers, and civil society activists -- have collectively condemned the incidents and called upon the Sri Lankan government to protect its minorities. A dozen of orange-robed Buddhist monks also took part in Wednesday's protest, while carrying a Tamil placard which read "Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims, all of us are human beings."

"There are pregnant mothers, lactating mothers, elderly, and just-born babies among thousands of refugees who are cramped in refugee camps. There is lack of food, and sanitary facilities available for these displaced community. Some well-wishers have take lorry loads of dry rations to them," Dr. Marina Abdeen, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Municipal councillor, told the AA, about the conditions for those who hid from the violence. A local source also told the AA that up to 2,500 women and children had been forced to hide in a school during the clashes. 

The protest was heavily monitored, photographed, and filmed by intelligence officers. Many civil society activists stayed behind, in order to not to be caught in "unavoidable" photographing and filming by the military -- who were dressed as civilians.

"This land belongs to Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, etc. All of us, whether majority or minorities, everybody should be protected by the government," Sandya Ekneligoda, the wife of missing Sri Lanka cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, told the AA.

The violence that erupted in the southwest has so far claimed four lives, among them three Muslims and a Tamil who worked on a Muslim farm, and saw businesses set alight and mosques vandalized.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency