Sri Lanka Muslims call for protection

AFP - Sri Lankan Muslims take part in Sri Lanka’s main Muslim party called on the government on Monday to protect religious minorities after protests by Buddhist monks demanding that a 60-year-old mosque be relocated.

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), which is a member of the ruling coalition, said it opposed shifting the mosque in Dambulla, 150 kilometres (93 miles) north of Colombo, saying this would be "disastrous" for the country.

The monks argued that the mosque was inside temple land and should be demolished while the Muslims maintain that they have been offering prayers there since the mid 1940s.

The government said in a statement last week that it had offered three alternate locations for the mosque and had also agreed to finance a new building, an offer firmly rejected by the SLMC.

"We will not agree to any compromise of taking land elsewhere," SLMC leader and Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem told reporters in Colombo. "We are very, very firm on that."

He said "extremist forces" were trying to create religious tensions in a country emerging from nearly four decades of ethnic strife which has cost an estimated 100,000 lives.

"A strong government must protect the weaker minorities," Hakeem said. "We appeal to the government to ensure that they do not allow xenophobic forces to hold the country hostage."

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