Fresh anti-Muslim riots erupt in Sri Lanka

Updated 16 June 2014

Fresh anti-Muslim riots erupt in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police clamped a curfew on a coastal resort Sunday after Buddhists attacked Muslims and mosques in the area, leaving several wounded and raising tensions. Muslims have expressed their deep concern over the situation and urged the government to intervene to end the violence.
Police have poured hundreds of reinforcements into Alutgama, 60 km south of the capital Colombo, after the two groups attacked each other with stones -- the latest in a series of religious clashes.
A police spokesman said trouble began when a group led by Buddhist monks tried to march in an area where there is a concentration of Muslims.
"The curfew was declared to bring the situation under control," a police officer in the area told reporters. There were no immediate reports of arrests.
Many activists from both sides as well as bystanders were injured during the evening clashes, according to witnesses who also reported seeing several vehicles smashed.
The latest unrest came weeks after Muslim legislators asked President Mahinda Rajapakse to protect their minority community from "Buddhist extremist elements" blamed for a recent spate of attacks.
Muslims make up about 10 percent of Sri Lanka's 20 million population. Nationalist Buddhist groups have in turn accused minorities of wielding undue political and economic influence.
Senior Buddhist monks have been caught on video threatening violence against their moderate colleagues who advocate tolerance.
Rajapakse, who is a Buddhist, warned monks in January last year not to incite religious violence.

During Sunday’s violence several people are reported to have been injured and shops and mosques burned. Eyewitness accounts tell of Muslims being pulled off local buses and beaten. There are also reports of looting.
The clashes are said to have begun after the rally held by the BBS, the Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Brigade. The gathering came three days after a smaller clash between Muslim youths and a Buddhist monk's driver.
After its rally, the BBS marched into Muslim areas chanting anti-Muslim slogans, reports say, and the police used tear gas to quell the violence. Unconfirmed reports say security forces also used gunfire.
The situation is confusing and there is an air of danger as violence has spread to several areas, a BBC reporter in Aluthgama said.
Sri Lankan media appear to have decided not to report the violence, with sources saying outlets have received "orders from above".
The president has called for an investigation. "The government will not allow anyone to take the law into their own hands. I urge all parties concerned to act in restraint," Rajapakse tweeted.


Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

Updated 4 min 18 sec ago

Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

  • Residents of Canberra in the country’s southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday
  • The state’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are 'in some cases just too big to put out at the moment.'
SYDNEY: Smoke haze from bushfires raging in Australia spread to the capital Sunday, as firefighters raced to contain more than 140 blazes ahead of a heatwave forecast early this week.

Australia is experiencing a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say began earlier and is more extreme this year due to a prolonged drought and the effects of climate change.

Residents of Canberra in the country’s southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday, joining those in Sydney who have endured weeks of toxic air pollution caused by bushfire smoke.

Officials said favorable weather conditions had given them a chance to bring several blazes under control before the forecast return of strong winds and high temperatures Tuesday.

Among those is a “mega fire” burning across 250,000 hectares within an hour’s drive of Sydney, Australia’s largest city, where ash from the fires has occasionally fallen.

Firefighters are now bracing for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to reach above 40 Celsius in parts of New South Wales state — worst-hit by the bushfires — and gusting westerly winds are likely to fan the flames.

“Today (fire) crews will be doing what they can to consolidate and strengthen containment lines, which in some areas will include backburning,” NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.

But the state’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are “in some cases just too big to put out at the moment.”

“They’re pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange & even appearing like significant rain on our radars,” the department tweeted.

Nearly 50 reinforcements from the United States and Canada have been flown in to support fatigued firefighters in recent days, with the international contingent tasked with providing logistical assistance.

In neighboring Queensland, the focus was also on managing fatigue among frontline firefighters — who in both states are almost all volunteers — as weather there provided a brief reprieve from weeks of battling blazes.

“We’re just looking to wind down and recover and prepare for the next round, whenever that may be,” a Queensland Fire and Emergency Service spokesman told AFP.

Since the crisis began in September, six people have been killed, more than 700 homes destroyed and an estimated two million hectares (almost five million acres) scorched.

Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 — when almost 200 people died — the scale of this year’s devastation has been widely described as unprecedented, as Australians grapple with the impacts of a changing climate.

Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.