Muslim Party Threatens to Withdraw From Sri Lanka Government

Colombo - Sri Lanka's main Muslim party threatened to withdraw from the ruling coalition as inter- religious violence continued in the north of the country, the British Broadcasting Corp. and Agence France-Presse said.

Eight shops in Muttur were burned Monday as violence that began in the country's central region last week spread to the ethnically mixed town in the northeast.

``If this anti-Muslim trend is not arrested immediately, the SLMC (Sri Lanka Muslim Congress) will lose its moral obligation to continue to support the government,'' AFP quoted a statement from the SLMC as saying.

Muslims make up about 7 percent of the South Asian island nation's population while 70 percent is Buddhist. The other main religions are Hinduism, forming 15 percent of the population, and Christianity, 7 percent. The Muslim-Buddhist religious violence is unconnected to the 18-year war being waged by mainly Hindu Tamil rebels for a separate state.

The ruling People's Alliance holds 107 seats in Sri Lanka's 225-seat assembly. It relies on the support of the SLMC and a moderate Tamil party for a majority in parliament. The joint leader of the SLMC, Ralf Harem, was appointed Sri Lanka's trade and commerce minister after October's parliamentary election.

The unrest started last week in the central towns of Mawanella and Maradana. At least one man was killed in the riots at Mawanella and 20 were injured as police opened fire to stop the people attacking shops and cars.

On Friday, protests against the police action turned violent in the capital, Colombo, with police clashing with demonstrators. An overnight curfew was imposed in the city and in the western region and lifted Saturday, China's Xinhua news agency said.

Leader Arrested

The leader of the rival Muslim United Liberation Front, Mujibar Rahaman, was arrested in connection with the violence in Maradana, the state-owned Daily News newspaper said.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga said the violence was inspired by a conspiracy by unspecified groups, the Daily News said.

``The people must be ever watchful of those groups who have hidden, unprincipled and non-formal associations among each other, who are ready to cause any damage to the country and the people to obtain power for themselves,'' the paper quoted Kumaratunga as saying.

``We will not permit any person, whoever it may be, to stoke the fires of communalism and religion to obtain narrow political gains or create instability in the country,'' she said.

May/07/2001 23:24 ET

(C) Copyright 2001 Bloomberg L.P.