The government of Sri Lanka has ordered that a mosque located in an area it says is sacred to the country’s majority Buddhists be removed, after Buddhist monks claimed the 50-year-old structure had been illegally constructed and threatened to demolish it if the authorities failed to do so.
The order comes two days after thousands of monks and lay supporters in the island nation’s central town of Dambulla staged a protest outside the building on Friday, shouting slogans and waving the Buddhist flag, the Associated Press reports.
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According to the BBC, a statement released Sunday by Prime Minister DM Jayaratne ordering the relocation of the mosque to a “suitable place in the neighborhood” appears to have been issued in haste, the day before various parties to the dispute were set to meet.
The statement names four prominent Muslim figures it says were present at a meeting Sunday when the move was agreed, but cabinet minister AHM Fowzie told the BBC he had not been at the gathering, while a weekly Muslim paper reports that three of the four insist they were not there.
Muslims living in the area told Reuters that the mosque has existed since 1962 and has hosted regular prayers over the past three decades. But Buddhist monks say the government unwittingly allowed the mosque to be expanded recently, defying a 1982 state regulation stipulating that the area is sacred to Buddhism.
Buddhism is the main religion in Sri Lanka, with Buddhists making up around 70 percent of the population.
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