Buddhist extremists hold first meeting after Easter attacks in Sri Lanka

Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero (R), head of the hardline Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or "Buddhist Power Force", speaks at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic before the Buddhist monks convention in Kandy, Sri Lanka July 7. 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 July 2019

Buddhist extremists hold first meeting after Easter attacks in Sri Lanka

  • Many shopkeepers and restaurant owners in Kandy said they planned to close their establishments on Sunday for fear of violence

KANDY: Police lined the streets of the Sri Lankan highland town of Kandy on Sunday and the army was on standby as hard-line Buddhist monks gathered for their first big assembly since Easter attacks by Islamist extremists on churches and luxury hotels.
Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, the influential head of the Buddhist nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), had called for as many as 10,000 clergymen from across the country to attend the meet.
The group said the gathering discussed who to back in the presidential elections later this year in the Indian Ocean island nation where Buddhists make up about 70 percent of the population. The rest include ethnic Tamils, who are mostly Hindus, and Muslims.
Dressed in orange, Gnanasara visited one of Buddhism’s most sacred temples in Kandy on Sunday where a relic believed to be the Buddha’s tooth is kept. Later, the hard-liner, who has faced allegations of inciting violence against Muslims, addressed the gathering.
After visiting the temple, he told reporters they would take a “historical decision” to give leadership for the development and security of the Sinhalese.
“Today, the Sinhala ethnicity, which has developed this country historically, has become very weak ... There is no leader who holds responsibility for Sinhalese,” he said adding some people were trying to sabotage the convention by spreading fears of possible riots.

FASTFACT

• There has been increasing anti-Muslim violence in the country in recent weeks, blamed in part on Buddhist groups, in apparent reprisal for the April bombings claimed by Daesh that killed more than 250 people.

• Muslims have become fearful of a backlash, especially from hard-line groups such as the BBS that are leading the campaign against extremism.

“The army is assisting the police on security under the emergency law,” military spokesman Sumith Atapattu said, adding soldiers were on alert should trouble erupt.
There has been increasing anti-Muslim violence in the country in recent weeks, blamed in part on Buddhist groups, in apparent reprisal for the April bombings claimed by Daesh that killed more than 250 people.
Muslims have become fearful of a backlash, especially from hard-line groups such as the BBS that are leading the campaign against extremism.
Many shopkeepers and restaurant owners in Kandy said they planned to close their establishments on Sunday for fear of violence.


Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

Updated 4 min 48 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.