Mob attacks Sri Lanka Tamil party as tensions rise

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's main Tamil party on Sunday accused a pro-government mob of attacking them in the island's north as racial tensions rose after Buddhist extremists smashed a Muslim-owned business.

The opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said their meeting in the town of Kilinochchi on Saturday was disrupted by a stone-throwing mob which had also attacked their vehicles and damaged a building while police looked on.

"Although there were police officers at that place... they took no effort to quell this attack," the TNA said in a statement. TNA legislators have been provided with policemen as their bodyguards.

The latest violence came two days after a mob targeted a Muslim-owned clothing store and warehouse just outside Colombo, raising religious tensions in a country emerging from nearly four decades of ethnic war.

Military spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya denied security forces were involved in Saturday's attack against the TNA and said police "successfully dispersed the crowd within about an hour, thus preventing the situation from escalating".

The attack at Kilinochchi, 330 kilometres north of Colombo, came despite increased security after Thursday's violence.

The main Muslim party in the ruling coalition said the unprovoked attack was a "sequel" to an ongoing hate campaign against minority Muslims and other religious minorities.

Muslims, who constitute about 10 per cent of the country's 20 million population, are the second largest minority after the mainly Hindu ethnic Tamils. Seventy per cent of the population are Sinhalese, most of whom are Buddhists.

The United Nations estimates that Sri Lanka's ethnic civil war claimed at least 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009, when Tamil separatist rebels were crushed in a major military offensive by government forces.

The Muslim owners of the clothing store, which was stoned and torched on Thursday night, said the attack had "shocked and disturbed us a great deal and instilled fear in the minds of our staff members in carrying out their day to day work".

Police said four Sinhalese Buddhist men had been arrested in connection with the attack and they were looking for more suspects.

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