Lanka police hit back after media flak over deadly riots

Updated 23 June 2014

Lanka police hit back after media flak over deadly riots

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police announced Sunday they were tightening security in the capital after local media, in a rare show of unity, condemned them for failing to control Buddhist extremists behind deadly anti-Muslim riots.
Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said security would be stepped up in Colombo Monday following reports that a Muslim group was planning a demonstration to denounce an alleged arson attack at a Muslim-owned shop over the weekend.
“We have reports of a hartal (work stoppage) on Monday,” Rohana said. “We are making arrangements to ensure that there is no trouble. There will be tighter security.” He dismissed the barrage of media criticism Sunday that police should take the blame for anti-Muslim riots carried out by hard-line Buddhists a week ago which left four people dead, 80 wounded, and hundreds of homes and shops destroyed.
“It is unfair to blame one individual, there are so many factors involved,” Rohana said, referring to a call for Inspector General of Police (IGP) N. K. Illangakoon to step down.
The privately-run The Nation weekly took the unusual step Sunday of leading its front page with an editorial, with the blunt headline: “The IGP must resign.”
Other media joined in blasting officials for failing to rein in a hard-line Buddhist group known as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS or the Buddhist Force), blamed for much of the unrest.
“Arrest him,” the Sunday Leader newspaper demanded in a headline, referring to the head of the BBS, Galagodaatte Gnanasara, who has publicly denied causing trouble.
Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times said the burning down of the Muslim-owned No-Limit clothing store outside Colombo on Saturday “is an indication that some people might want this violence to spread.”
Police were investigating the cause of the blaze, which Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem, the most senior Muslim in President Mahinda Rajapakse’s cabinet, described Saturday as an arson attack.
Rohana said forensic experts were expected to visit the charred building on Monday.
The Sunday Times said a majority of Buddhists in the country did not support the extremist views of the few monks who were behind the hate campaign, and that they should be dealt with before the unrest escalates further.
Some reports also echoed charges by the main opposition United National Party that patronage by senior government figures may have held police back from acting against the BBS. The UNP has accused the country’s powerful defense secretary and president’s younger brother, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, of backing the BBS.
Gotabhaya Rajapakse had opened a Buddhist cultural center at the southern town of Galle in March last year in the company of BBS leaders, while President Mahinda Rajapakse opened a Buddhist center with a BBS leader in Colombo in April 2011.
Justice Minister Hakeem has strongly criticized the BBS and has asked the president to order an independent probe into last week’s riots targeting Muslims, who account for some 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million.
Hakeem, in a statement issued on Saturday night, blamed the government for failing to control the BBS, which last year led a successful campaign to take halal certification off food sold to non-Muslims in the majority-Buddhist nation.
“Irrespective of who is responsible for the terrible events that unfolded... none would dispute that it was a serious dislocation of the ability of the state to maintain the rule of law,” Hakeem said after an emergency meeting Saturday with the president.
The president has said he is ordering a probe into “recent disturbances.”

Symbolic swearing-in for Sri Lanka’s new strongman

Updated 18 min 48 sec ago

Symbolic swearing-in for Sri Lanka’s new strongman

  • Rajapaksa’s landslide win split the nation of 21.6 million people on religious and ethnic lines as never before
  • Rajapaksa took his oath of office at an ancient temple at Anuradhapura, in the northern part of the island

ANURADHAPURA, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka’s new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was sworn in Monday at a Buddhist temple revered by his core Sinhalese nationalist supporters, following an election victory that triggered fear and concern among the island’s Tamil and Muslim minority communities.

Rajapaksa’s landslide win split the nation of 21.6 million people on religious and ethnic lines as never before, seven months after deadly Islamist attacks rocked the country.

The former defense secretary is lauded by his majority Sinhala-Buddhist community for leading a no-holds-barred military campaign that crushed Tamil rebels and ended a 37-year separatist war in 2009 when his brother was president.

Rajapaksa took his oath of office at an ancient temple at Anuradhapura, in the northern part of the island.

He did so facing the temple’s stupa, which is the tallest in Sri Lanka and dates back more than two millennia.

The imposing structure is said to have been built by a Sinhalese king who is venerated by Sri Lanka’s Buddhists for vanquishing an invading south Indian Tamil ruler.
Around 40,000 Tamil civilians were allegedly killed at the end of the civil war in 2009.

Saturday’s election saw the country’s Tamils, who account for about 15 percent of the population, vote overwhelmingly against Rajapaksa.

During his brother’s 2005-15 presidency Gotabaya had unfettered control over security forces, while “death squads” that abducted dozens of dissidents, opponents, journalists and others also allegedly reported to him.

Many people were never found again after being bundled into feared white vans, while some were killed and dumped by roadsides. Rajapaksa has denied any involvement.

He has resisted international calls to investigate the alleged war crimes.

At his only press conference during a three-month election campaign, Rajapaksa reiterated that he will not allow Sri Lankan troops to be tried by any war-crime tribunal, foreign or local.

He had also pledged to exonerate and free from prosecution the dozens of military personnel accused of abductions, extortion and killings during his brother’s decade in power.

In his brief acceptance speech at the announcement of the final election results on Sunday, Rajapaksa pledged to work for all Sri Lankans.

“I am the president of not only those who voted for me but also those who voted against me... irrespective of which race or religion they belong to,” Rajapaksa said.

“I am deeply committed to serve all the people of Sri Lanka.”

The island’s minority Tamils have been campaigning for greater autonomy in areas where they are concentrated.

Tamil youth took up arms in 1972 demanding a separate state and their violent guerilla campaign at its height saw them control a third of the country.

After being in opposition for nearly five years, the Rajapaksa family’s comeback came after the Sinhalese-Buddhist community and the powerful Buddhist clergy rallied behind them.

Rajapaksa formally announced his intention to run for the presidency just days after Islamist attacks on April 21 that killed 269 people, promising to protect the nation.

The Easter Sunday suicide bombings on three upscale hotels and three churches was carried out by a homegrown outfit from among Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority, who make up 10 percent of the population.

It shocked the nation, and the world, just as Sri Lankan tourism was booming and as the nation prepared to celebrate a decade since the end of the Tamil separatist war.

Rajapakasa insisted that extremists would not have carried out any attacks if he had been in power. He blamed the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for weakening the intelligence apparatus he had built.