Sri Lanka grills firebrand monk over anti-Muslim riots

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's police called in a militant Buddhist monk for questioning Wednesday after he was accused of instigating deadly anti-Muslim riots that heightened religious tensions in the ethnically divided nation.

Galagodaatte Gnanasara was summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department over a speech he made two weeks ago in the resort town of Alutgama where mobs attacked Muslim-owned shops and homes, police said.

"Other speakers who were at the same stage with the monk will also be questioned in due course," said a statement, adding that a total of 117 people had been arrested in connection with the religious riots.

A police source said Gnanasara had been "detained" but stopped short of saying that he had been formally arrested.

Four people were killed, 80 wounded and hundreds of shops and homes were damaged in the worst religious violence in the country in recent decades.

The violence which started in Alutgama quickly spread to the adjoining beach resorts of Beruwala and Bentota.

Sri Lanka's media as well as rights groups have accused the police of failing to take action against Buddhist mobs accused of attacking Muslims who constitute 10 per cent of the country's 20 million population.

The latest police action came after the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella group of 48 Muslim organisations, expressed fears of more violence against their community during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Muslims as well as a majority of moderate Buddhists have pressed for action against Gnanasara's Buddhist Force, or BBS, which is seen as enjoying the patronage of senior government figures.

The defence ministry called a press conference Wednesday to distance itself from the BBS.

The country is emerging from a decades-long Tamil separatist war which ended in May 2009. The UN estimates that at least 100,000 people were killed in the war between 1972 and 2009.