Sri Lanka Buddhist monk dies after self-immolation

COLOMBO (AFP) - A Sri Lankan Buddhist monk died on Saturday of severe burns a day after setting himself on fire to protest the slaughter of cattle, an official said.

Sek Bowatte Indaratna, 30, succumbed to his injuries at the National Hospital in Colombo where he was rushed Friday after his self-immolation bid in front of the highly venerated Temple of the Tooth in the central town of Kandy.

"He died of severe burns. He had 95 percent burns and was fighting for his life," hospital spokesman Pushpa Soysa told AFP. He becomes the first Sri Lankan Buddhist monk to self-immolate.

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.

"This is a sacrifice of a life. This is not a suicide," the monk told the local Swarnavahini television cameraman minutes before the self-immolation bid. "There are over 5,000 cattle slaughtered in Sri Lanka each morning and it must stop."

In a leaflet distributed to devotees outside the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, 115km east of the capital Colombo, the monk said he was also against proselytising by Christian groups.

His unannounced protest came as the country celebrated Vesak, the commemoration of the birth, enlightenment and the death of the Buddha, in the Buddhist-majority country which marks the occasion with two days of holidays.

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

Animal rights groups have tried unsuccessfully to secure a ban on meat eating in Sri Lanka.

An animal rights activist said she did not condone the monk's action, but she added that the unprecedented move demonstrated the anger towards the inhuman treatment of animals.

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.