Asia

Sri Lanka crowd attacks Muslim warehouse in Colombo

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Media captionThe BBC's Charles Haviland says the police reportedly stood by as Buddhist monks attacked a Muslim shop

Several people have been injured in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, when Buddhist monks led hundreds in an assault on a Muslim-owned clothing warehouse.

Buddhist monks were filmed throwing stones at the storage centre of popular garment chain Fashion Bug in a suburb of the capital on Thursday night.

Police told AFP news agency that forces had been deployed to guard the area.

The attack comes as hard-line Buddhist groups step up a campaign against the lifestyles of Muslims.

The government's Minister for Justice Rauff Hakeem, himself a Muslim, urged the prime minister to call an urgent cabinet meeting to discuss the security of Muslims following these attacks.

These developments come four years after the army in the mainly Sinhalese Buddhist country defeated Tamil separatists.

During Sri Lanka's bitter civil war the Muslims - a small Tamil-speaking minority, about 9% of the population - kept a low profile, but many now fear that ethnic majority hard-liners are trying to target them.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo said the monks led a crowd which quickly swelled to about 500, yelling insults against the shop's Muslim owners and rounding on journalists seeking to cover the events.

Five or six were injured, including a cameraman who needed stitches.

Eyewitnesses said the police stood and watched although after the trouble spread they brought it under control.

"We have deployed extra units of STR (Special Task Force commandos) and police to guard the area," police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

"The situation was brought under control within a few hours," he said, adding that no arrests had been made.

Television footage showed broken glass and clothing from the warehouse strewn in the street.

Hard-line Buddhist groups led by monks also sent around a text this week urging people to boycott Muslim shops when stocking up for the forthcoming Sri Lankan New Year festival.

After some Muslim groups called a strike in protest against a growing Buddhist campaign against their lifestyle, including halal food classification, a hard-line Buddhist party in the governing coalition issued a statement saying: "Sinhalese Buddhists should be determined to teach such Muslim extremists a lesson that they will never forget".

The assault comes a day after police set up a hot-line to tackle complaints about anyone "inciting religious or racial hatred hatred".

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