Mosque, shops attacked in anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka

Tourists walk along a street with closed shops after clashes between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Kandy, Sri Lanka. (Reuters)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Mosque, shops attacked in anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police said petrol bombs were hurled at a mosque on Thursday as hundreds of troops patrolled a troubled central district where anti-Muslim violence has left three people dead.
Muslim-owned businesses were set on fire and vandalized in several parts of Sri Lanka, police said, days after an island-wide state of emergency was imposed to curb riots in Kandy.
Police announced 85 people had been arrested for rioting in the hill district, including the leader of a radical Sinhalese Buddhist group known for agitating against Muslims.
“We have arrested 10 key suspects, including Amith Weerasinghe, who orchestrated and led these attacks,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told reporters in Colombo, adding that another 75 were detained.
Armored vehicles and heavily-armed troops guarded Kandy, the epicenter of the violence where Internet services remain suspended and an evening curfew is in place.
The government ordered the Internet blackout after police discovered mobs of Sinhalese rioters were using social media to coordinate attacks on Muslim establishments.
More than 200 homes, businesses and vehicles have been torched in three days of violence by mobs from the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority.
A 24-hour curfew was imposed on Wednesday afternoon after a hand grenade exploded in the hands of an attacker, killing him and wounding 11 others, officials said.
The day-time curfew was eased following a calm night but schools were shuttered as tensions remain high in the tourist hotspot.
In Kuruvita, 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Kandy, police said petrol bombs were lobbed at a mosque. Little damage was inflicted and three suspects are being pursued.
In Weligama, 240 kilometers south of Kandy, a Muslim-owned business was attacked, police said, while Muslim establishments were pelted with stones in at least two other locations outside Kandy.
Sri Lanka’s telecoms regulator asked Internet providers to block access to Facebook and other social media platforms to prevent the spread of anti-Muslim hate speech.
Police have already identified anti-Muslim messages being shared on social networks, including a video posted by a hard-line Buddhist monk urging violence against Muslims.
Muslims in Kandy complained that security forces and police — equipped with special powers to detain under the emergency provision — were slow to react as the violence unfolded.
“The main junction is going up in flames. At the same time, the authorities are folding their arms and watching,” said Muslim businessman M. Jaffer, as quoted in Thursday’s DailyFT newspaper.
Former Sri Lankan cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara alluded to the island’s history of ethnic violence in urging his countrymen “to say no to racism.”
“We have to make sure that in Sri Lanka anyone and everyone feels safe, loved and accepted regardless of ethnicity or religion,” he said in a video posted to Twitter.
President Maithripala Sirisena toured Kandy on Wednesday and ordered security forces to use the full force of the law against troublemakers.
Military officials said more reinforcements were sent to the area on Wednesday night to assist police who resorted to teargas to disperse rioters the previous evening.
The United Nations has condemned the violence and urged Colombo “to ensure that appropriate measures are swiftly taken to restore normalcy in affected areas.”
The Kandy region, 115 kilometers (72 miles) east of the capital Colombo, is popular with tourists as well as Buddhist pilgrims.
“Shops are opening, and more people can be seen on the roads since the curfew was lifted,” a police official in the area said by telephone.
Holidaymakers have been urged to avoid the hill resort, which is home to Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist shrine, the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
The chief custodian of the UNESCO-listed temple, Pradeep Nilanga Dela, said foreign tourists and pilgrims were flocking to the shrine despite the tensions.
The unrest began Monday after a Sinhalese man died following injuries sustained at the hands of a Muslim mob last week. Conflict escalated when a Muslim man was found dead in a burnt building on Tuesday.
Sinhalese Buddhists are the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka, making up 75 percent of its 21 million people. Muslims make up 10 percent of the population.
Parliament on Tuesday issued an apology to the island’s Muslim minority for the latest violence targeting them in the Indian Ocean island.
Mobs also set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and attacked a mosque in the east of the country last week. Last November riots in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged.
In June 2014 riots between Buddhists, led by radical monks, and Muslims left four dead.


Former Malaysian PM charged with money laundering, abuse of power

Updated 28 min 42 sec ago
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Former Malaysian PM charged with money laundering, abuse of power

  • The charges bring the total number against Najib to 32 as investigators ramp up a probe into how billions went missing from scandal-plagued 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
  • 1MDB is a state fund that Najib founded and chaired.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian prosecutors charged former Prime Minister Najib Razak with 21 counts of money laundering and four counts of abuse of power on Thursday over hundreds of millions of dollars received in his personal bank account.
The charges bring the total number against Najib to 32 as investigators ramp up a probe into how billions went missing from scandal-plagued 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) — a state fund that he founded and chaired.
Najib has denied all charges, which have piled up since he unexpectedly lost a general election in May to Mahathir Mohamad, who reopened the 1MDB investigation.
Prosecutors, describing the abuse of power charges, said Najib used his position as prime minister, finance minister and chairman of 1MDB to obtain funds totalling about 2.3 billion ringgit ($556.23 million) between 2011 and 2014.
The money-laundering charges describe how Najib received 2.1 billion ringgit from Tanore Finance Corp, which US authorities have said was used to siphon money from 1MDB.
“The charges made today will give me a chance to clear my name, that I am not a thief,” Najib told reporters.
He was released after the judge set bail of 3.5 million ringgit ($846,430), to be paid by Sept. 28.
Prosecutors said it was a matter of “national disgrace” for a head of state to be facing such charges.
“This is a case involving a man holding the highest elected office. And him, facing such serious charges, must face some consequences in the eyes of the court,” lead prosecutor Gopal Sri Ram said, arguing for a bail amount of 5 million ringgit.
Najib has faced corruption allegations since the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015 that $681 million was sent to a personal bank account of the then-prime minister in 2013. A year later, the US Department of Justice confirmed the transaction and said the funds originated from 1MDB.
Despite growing calls to step down, he clung to power by cracking down on dissent and the media. But Malaysians voted him out earlier this year and he has since come under close scrutiny.
In recent months, prosecutors brought a total of seven charges against Najib over 42 million ringgit that allegedly flowed from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit, into his bank account.
The Department of Justice has said a total of $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB through a complex web of transactions and fraudulent shell companies. Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho is described as a central figure in the scandal.