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RELIGIOUS violence flared again today in central Sri Lanka despite a state of emergency, with Buddhist mobs sweeping through towns and villages, burning Muslim homes and businesses, and leaving victims barricaded inside mosques.
The government ordered popular social media networks blocked in an attempt to stop the violence from spreading and thousands of police and soldiers spread out across the worst-hit areas.
The police also ordered a curfew across much of the region for a third straight day, trying to calm the situation.
Hundreds of Muslim residents of Mullegama, a village in the hills of central Sri Lanka, barricaded themselves inside a local mosque after Buddhist mobs attacked their homes this morning, accusing them of stealing the donation box of a nearby temple.
At least 20 Muslim homes appeared badly damaged and flames engulfed one house.
The Muslims hiding in the mosque, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals, said police prevented them from saving their property and did nothing to stop the attackers.
One Sinhala Buddhist man who was part of the attack died in an explosion and another man was injured, according to the men in the mosque. A local Buddhist man said the Muslims were using improvised explosives, which the men in the mosque denied.
Mullegama Piyaratana, a local Buddhist monk, claimed the mob rampage took place after people threw rocks at the temple, but he refused to say who was responsible.
In the nearby small town of Katugastota, Ikram Mohamed, a Muslim, stood outside the wreckage of the textile shop where he worked, after Sinhalese Buddhist mobs set it on fire.
He and the owner had closed the shop this morning when police announced the curfew. They returned to find it destroyed, and clothing and dressmaker dummies smoking in the ruins.
“There are many good Sinhalese people,” he said. “This is being done by a few jealous people.”
Muslims own many of the small businesses in Sri Lanka, a fact that many believe has helped make them targets as Buddhist-Muslim relations have worsened in recent years amid the rise of extremist Buddhist groups, which accuse Muslims of forcing people to convert and destroying sacred Buddhist sites.
Residents said mobs swept through at least two towns in the central hills today, attacking two mosques and a string of Muslim-owned shops and buildings.
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