ucanews.com reporter, ColomboUpdated: April 28, 2013 11:26 PM GMT
More than 300 demonstrators gathered on Sunday in Colombo to protest against a wave of attacks on Muslim and other religious minority businesses in recent months.
Demonstrators, including religious leaders, politicians and activists, holding signs that read “Hate has no place in Sri Lanka’, urged participants and the government to end religious hatred and violence.
“Extremist groups promote a culture of religious hatred and racism in the country and they are now working freely but nobody is talking about these organizations," said Buddhist monk Baddegama Samitha Thero.
"Their activities badly affect for the unity among religions," he said.
Two Buddhist groups in the country – the Bodhu Bala Sena and the Rawana Balaya – have been cited by activists as fomenting religious discord for efforts to curb the availability of halal meat during a Buddhist festival last month and, more recently, for advocating government restrictions on Muslim attire.
The groups have also been blamed for a series of attacks on Christian and Muslim houses of worship, more than 60 of which have been attacked since January this year, according to evangelical pastor Rohan de S. Ekanayake and Muslim rights activist Arshad Nizamdeen.
Bodhu Bala Sena and Rawana Balaya have both denied accusations of sowing religious hatred and any involvement in the attacks, blaming the violence instead on unnamed foreign countries who fund Christian and Muslim fundamentalist groups that pose a threat to Buddhists.
However, local media reports earlier this month said members of Bodhu Bala Sena distributed anti-Muslim pamphlets in Matara district in Southern Province.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a recent address to the nation that his government would not allow racism or religious extremism in the country and appealed to the Buddhist majority to protect the rights of others.
"This is a democratic country and non-Buddhists have equal rights and freedom," he said.
The Buddhist Sinhalese make up three-quarters of Sri Lanka's 20 million population, while Muslims constitute only about 10 percent.