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Calm returns to mob-hit Sri Lankan towns

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March 09, 2018

A Sri Lankan police officer investigates a burnt shop in Kandy where 10 people have been arrested.

Police in Sri Lanka have arrested the suspected leader and nine others suspected of being behind a wave of anti-Muslim attacks by Sinhalese Buddhist hardliners.

Sri Lanka's Kandy district has been rocked by communal clashes since Sunday following attacks on members of the minority Muslim community by nationalist crowds from the Sinhalese majority. At least two people have been killed.

President Maithripala Sirisena decreed a state of emergency in Kandy on Wednesday but crowds carried out more attacks targeting mosques and businesses belonging to Muslims overnight, residents said.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said all 10 people arrested belonged to a hardline Buddhist group.

Most of Sri Lanka's Muslims live in the east and centre of the island and make up about 9 per cent of its 21 million people. Buddhists make up about 70 per cent and ethnic Tamils, most of whom are Hindus, about 13 per cent.

Residents in Kandy district said the death of a Buddhist youth after an altercation with a group of Muslims had triggered the violence.

Two days after the death, a large crowd of Buddhists brought a symbolic coffin to protest against the death of the driver in Digana town where most of the shops are either owned or rented by Muslims, residents said.

"First they burnt the mosque, there were even women among the attackers. Then they started to burn all the Muslim shops," said 30-year old Mohamed Shifan. He said he had 3.7 million rupees ($30,600) lying in his car which he had collected to start a new electric goods business.

On Thursday, shops were still smouldering after mobs went on a rampage picking on the small stores and eateries run by Muslims.

Soldiers stood guard outside mosques in the area.

"The situation is improving and there have been no major incidents of violence reported in the last 12 hours," said Major General Rukman Dias, the army commander in the area.

He said the curfew would be reimposed as a measure of precaution.

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