Sri Lanka monk fights for life after immolation bid

COLOMBO (AFP) - A Sri Lankan monk was fighting for his life Saturday, a day after setting himself on fire to protest the slaughter of cattle, an official said.

Bowatte Indaratna, 30, was flown to the main National Hospital in Colombo from the pilgrim town of Kandy where he doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight on Friday in front of stunned Buddhist devotees.

"He is in a very serious condition with 95 percent burns," hospital spokeswoman Pushpa Soysa told AFP. "We have sedated him and he is fighting for his life."

A local television channel showed the 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, 72 miles (115 kilometres) 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 attempt at immolation came amid rising religious tensions after Buddhist extremists campaigned to boycott halal-slaughtered meat as well as other products that carry a halal certificate.