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.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.