19 arrested over racial violence targeting Muslim minority in Sri Lanka


Sri Lankan police said Saturday that 19 people were arrested following racial violence in the country’s south that started over a dispute between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara said four people were injured in attacks that took place Friday night in areas surrounding the southern town of Galle. Homes, shops and vehicles were damaged in the violence, though the extent of the damage was not immediately known.

A curfew imposed overnight was lifted Saturday morning.

“Additional police battalions, the police Special Task Force, the anti-riot squad and the military were called in last night to bring the situation under control,” Minister of Law and Order Sagala Ratnanayake said in a statement.

Ratnayake also thanked everyone who “acted with responsibility to avoid a bloodbath.”

More than 1,000 security personnel were deployed by noon on Saturday in the area.

A similar clash in 2014 in the southern town of Aluthgama lasted more than four days, leaving behind four dead and more than 500 shops and houses damaged.

Sinhalese Buddhists make up 75 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million, while Muslims make up 9 percent. Even though relations between the communities have been generally cordial, Muslims have been victims of hate speech and their businesses attacked by radical Sinhalese groups in recent years.