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Two Muslim governors in Lanka resign after protests by Buddhists


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Colombo:  Two Muslim governors in Sri Lanka resigned Monday after thousands of people, including majority Buddhist community monks, launched a protest in the pilgrim city of Kandy, demanding their sacking for allegedly supporting Islamist extremists responsible for the Easter suicide bombings.

Western Province Governor Azath Salley and Eastern Province Governor MALM Hisbullah, handed over their resignation letters to President Maithripala Sirisena in response to protests by the majority Buddhist monks, officials said.

Salley and Hisbullah, both Muslim allies of Sirisena and appointed by him, were under pressure to resign after being accused of being linked to extremism.

Both Salley and Hisbullah have rejected the allegations.

This is a direct fall out of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks carried out by ISIS linked local Islamist group National Thowheeth Jamaath (NTJ). The resignation came four days after Buddhist monk Athuraliye Rathana, who is also a parliamentarian from a Sirisena allied party, sat on a hunger strike in the central town of Kandy near the foremost Buddhist shrine, the Temple of Tooth.

"I will end my fast only after the president will sack the two Muslim governors," Rathana said at the commencement of his protest.

A crowd of about 10,000 Buddhists held demonstration at the famous temple on Monday morning raising anti-Muslim slogans.

Firebrand monk Galagodaaththe Gnanasara, released from jail on a presidential pardon last month, was also present. Gnanasara has long been accused of instigating hate crimes against Muslims.

The head of the Catholic Church in Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, also travelled to Kandy on Monday to express solidarity with Rathana.

Shops and offices remained closed in the city, 115 kilometres east of Colombo, while black flags were raised in support of Rathana.

Following the April 21 attacks that claimed 258 lives, the Muslim minority politicians representing the government came under criticism for their alleged support extended to the rising Muslim militancy.

One such minister, the Industry and Commerce Minister Rishath Bathiyutheen was directly accused of supporting the NTJ, which carried out the suicide bombings on three Colombo hotels and three churches. The Opposition moved a motion of no confidence in the Parliament against Bathiyutheen who has denied links to the NTJ and its terror activities.

The Muslim politicians in the government are said to be considering a move to resign from their positions to protest what they term the government's inability to ensure the safety of the Muslim minority who constitute 9 per cent of the island's 21 million population.

In the wake of the bombings, majority Sinhala community mobs attacked Muslim-owned properties in towns north of the capital killing one Muslim man and leaving hundreds of homes, shops and mosques vandalised.

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