Immolation monk's last rites spark Sri Lanka protest

COLOMBO (AFP) - About 200 Sri Lankan Buddhists blocked traffic in the capital Colombo on Sunday to protest after authorities rejected a state funeral for the country's first ever monk to self-immolate.

Bowatte Indaratna, 30, succumbed to his burn injures on Saturday after calling for an end to cattle slaughter and proselytisation by Christians in the Buddhist majority nation of 20 million.

"We staged a sit-down demonstration near Temple Trees (the official resident of President Mahinda Rajapakse) demanding a state funeral at Independence Square," monk Akmeemana Dayaratne told AFP. "But, we did not get it."

He said they decided to disperse, but vowed to keep up pressure on the government to stop the slaughter of animals and ensure there were no unethical religious conversions.

The protesters, including dozens of saffron-robed Buddhist monks, blocked traffic on the main road opposite Rajapakse's residence, witnesses said.

There was no immediate comment from the government, but police said there were heated arguments with the protesters.

Monk Indaratna died at the National Hospital in Colombo Saturday where he was rushed after setting himself on fire in front of the highly venerated Temple of the Tooth in the central town of Kandy on Friday.

A local television channel showed dramatic images of the monk using a cigarette lighter to set himself ablaze and bystanders, including police throwing buckets of water to put out the flames.

In a leaflet distributed to devotees outside the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, 115 kilometres east of the capital Colombo, the monk said he was against the slaughter of cattle.

His unannounced protest came as the country celebrated Wesak, the commemoration of the birth, enlightenment and the death of the Buddha, with two days of holidays.

Eating meat is common in Buddhist Sri Lanka, although according to the religion killing animals is a sin.

The monk's action came amid rising religious tensions after Buddhist extremists campaigned to boycott halal-slaughtered meat as well as other products that carry a halal certificate.

More than 110 Tibetan Buddhists have set themselves ablaze since 2009 to protest China's rule of the Tibetan plateau, rights groups have said.