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Sri Lankan activists say clergy were not behind May riots

Minister accuses Catholic clergy and Buddhist monks of instigating riots that erupted on May 9

A student gestures in front of riot police during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country's crippling economic crisis in Colombo on May 21

A student gestures in front of riot police during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country's crippling economic crisis in Colombo on May 21. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 15, 2022 10:50 AM GMT

Updated: June 16, 2022 05:41 AM GMT

Activists in Sri Lanka have denied allegations that Catholic clergy and Buddhist monks were behind last month’s riots.

Prasanna Ranatunga, minister of housing and urban development, alleged that Catholic clergy and Buddhist monks were behind riots that erupted on May 9 following an attack on peaceful protesters by pro-government supporters at Galle Face Green on the same day.

The Coalition of Catholic Lay Organizations (CCLO) said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Catholic priests and Buddhist monks have never instigated violence in the country.

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"We express our displeasure and regret to the minister for making such a statement. The Church has always stood for peace and non-violence," CCLO national convenor Shehan Malaka said at a press conference on June 14.

He said the minister made another false statement that church bells were used to rally people. “We ask the minister which church rallied and mobilized the masses by ringing the church bells," Malaka said.

Ranatunga claimed in parliament that Cardinal Ranjith and Ven. Sobitha Thera had influenced people to attack properties of cabinet ministers.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. Nationwide protests are demanding the removal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as well as the new prime minister

"The local church prevented bloodshed in the whole country after the Easter Sunday attack. They went among the victims and took all possible measures to alleviate the suffering of the people and prevent them from [committing] violence. Cardinal Ranjith and the clergy calmed the whole country peacefully," said Malaka.

Lawyer Amila Egodamahawatta said former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe misled pro-government supporters to attack unarmed innocent people at Galle Face Green on May 9.

"As lawyers, we are with these people and they stand up for everyone who seeks justice," he added.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. Nationwide protests are demanding the removal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as well as the new prime minister. The crisis forced Mahinda Rajapaksa, the older brother of the president, to resign as prime minister in May.

There is a fear among people that there will be a food shortage in the next few months. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a special statement to parliament said the next three weeks will be a difficult time to obtain fuel and gas.

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