Another Catholic church attacked in Sri Lanka

Another Catholic church was attacked near here despite armed police protection amid escalating assaults against minority Christians in this Buddhist-majority country, residents said.

Attackers brought tyres and set fire to them at the door of the St. Anthony's church at Hokandara, just outside Colombo, but police guards later dispersed the mob, a resident said Sunday.

Priest Hishantha Perera said the attackers failed to enter the church building, but a cross outside had been vandalised.

"The attackers had come in despite the armed police guard," he said.

The attempt was made barely two days after President Chandrika Kumaratunga ordered tough action to stop attacks against Christian worship sites.

Kumaratunga had asked police chief Indra de Silva to investigate the attacks and show no leniency in arresting those responsible.

She made the order a day after another Catholic church in the same area was set ablaze.

The Roman Catholic church here condemned the attacks.

Some Buddhist monks have been demanding a law to ban what they call "unethical conversions".

They argue that Christian sects offer cash to poor people to persuade them to convert, a charge Christian groups deny.

The attacks against churches escalated last month following the funeral of a controversial Buddhist monk, Gangodavila Soma, who led a campaign against religious conversions.

The monk's death in Russia of a heart attack fuelled conspiracy theories, despite an autopsy showing he died of natural causes.

Dozens of Buddhist monks launched a sit-down protest in Colombo last month outside the Buddhist Affairs ministry, demanding legislation to ban conversions.

Christians make up 7.5 percent of the population of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's constitution grants the foremost place to Buddhism, which is practiced by nearly 70 percent of the island's 18.66 million people. Hindus make up about 15 percent and Muslims about 7.5 percent.