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Last updated at 16:00 GMT, Monday, 18 February 2013

Sri Lankan religious tensions

Summary

18 February 2013

A new Sinhalese Buddhist group in Sri Lanka has called for the abolition of Muslim laws about how certain foods should be prepared.

This comes at a time of rising religious tension in the country.

Reporter:

Charles Haviland

Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka from the hardline group Bodu Bala Sena

Buddhism is the major religion in Sri Lanka, with significant Hindu, Muslim and Christian minorities

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Not only at the grounds where thousands of Sinhalese gathered, but throughout the surrounding streets too, the hardline nationalistic speeches resounded.

The Buddhist Strength Force, founded nine months ago, used explicitly racial rhetoric. One monk, its leader, told the crowd that "only monks can save this race", meaning the Sinhalese, who are about three-quarters of Sri Lanka's population.

A poster depicted a lion, symbol of the Sinhalese, telling its cub: "This land belongs to you and its soil is red with the blood of your people".

The group denies being anti-minority. But its youth activists wore T-shirts denouncing the halal system whereby the Muslim minority certifies which goods are acceptable to consume.

Referring to Muslim clerics in derogatory language, the monk said what he called Christian and Muslim extremists were threatening Buddhists. He said there were 400 such Christian organisations and a hostile army of 12,000 Muslims allegedly trained in the Middle East.

But hundreds of monks were ready to fight: "Our country is a Sinhalese one and we are its unofficial police", he added. Both Muslims and Christians deny promoting extremism in Sri Lanka.

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Vocabulary

hardline

very strict and extreme

explicitly

clearly and exactly

rhetoric

language which is intended to influence people's emotions and behaviour

depicted

showed

anti-minority

opposed to smaller ethnic or religious groups

denouncing

criticising strongly and in public

halal

(of an animal or its meat) killed and prepared in a way which is demanded by Islamic law

derogatory

offensive and not showing respect

hostile

unfriendly and trying to create conflict

promoting extremism

encouraging very strong beliefs which most people think are unacceptable

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