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June 29, 2017

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Sri Lanka capital's Muslim shopkeepers protest rioting

COLOMBO -- Several hundred Muslim-owned businesses shut down in the Sri Lankan capital on Thursday to protest deadly riots by extremist Buddhists, defying President Mahinda Rajapakse's plea to stay open.

Shops and restaurants in central Colombo were shuttered following the riots in two mainly Muslim coastal resorts popular with international tourists that left four people dead and Muslim homes and businesses razed.

"The protest is against the BBS and the police failure to protect our community," a Muslim shop-keeper who declined to be named told AFP.

"We are also asking the government to take action against those behind the riots."

A Sinhalese businessman said most of the shops in the normally bustling Pettah wholesale market in Colombo were closed.

The violence on Sunday and Monday nights was blamed on the hardline Buddhist Force (BBS) in the southern towns of Alutgama and Beruwala, about 60 kilometers south of Colombo.

The closures came as police said a moderate monk who voiced opposition to the BBS had been abducted, beaten up and dumped by the road side outside Colombo early Thursday.

The monk's condition was not immediately known. He was found by residents with his hands and legs tied in the town of Panadura, a police spokesman said.

The BBS, which has denied it was behind the riots, has been accused of targeting Buddhist clergy who opposed their hardline tactics.

President Rajapakse on Wednesday urged majority Buddhists and minority Muslims to ease tensions and take steps towards peace.

During a tour of riot-hit Beruwala, Rajapakse promised an investigation into the riots and appealed to Muslims not to go ahead with a "hartal" or strike, plans for which had been circulating among Muslim communities.

The riots are the latest in a series of religious clashes to hit the island following unrest in January and last year, when Buddhist mobs attacked a mosque in Colombo.

Muslims make up about 10 percent of the 20 million population, but are accused by Buddhist nationalists of having undue influence in the Buddhist-majority country.

The main Muslim party in Rajapakse's ruling coalition, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), boycotted parliament on Wednesday, accusing authorities of failing to control the BBS.

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