Sri Lanka: Crisis-hit Sri Lanka lifts curfew for Buddhist festival

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Authorities in Sri Lanka lifted a nationwide curfew on Sunday for a major Buddhist festival, with celebrations muted as the island grapples with a worsening economic crisis.
A nationwide stay-at-home order has been in effect for most of the week after mob violence left nine dead and more than 225 injured, triggered by attacks on peaceful protesters by government supporters.
In recent weeks, protesters across the Buddhist-majority country have demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa due to Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis in its history as an independent nation.
Shortages of food, fuel and medicine, along with record inflation and long blackouts, have brought serious hardship to the country’s 22 million people.
Sunday marks Vesak, the most important religious event on the Sri Lankan calendar, which celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.
The government also announced that it was lifting the curfew for the day without saying when or if it would be reimposed.
But the ongoing crisis has prompted the government to cancel its plans to mark the festival, which was scheduled at a temple in the south of the island.
“Given the government’s economic situation and other restrictions, we will not have this year’s state festival at the Kuragala temple as planned,” an official at the Ministry of Buddhist Affairs told AFP.
The official said Buddhists are free to hold their own celebrations, including mass meditation and Buddhist sermons traditionally held during the festival.
Worshipers traditionally set up soup kitchens, lanterns and bamboo “pandal” stages with large paintings depicting stories from the life of Buddha.
But Sri Lanka has not been able to properly stage Vesak for years, with the Easter Sunday attacks crippling celebrations in 2019 and the last two years affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s event was scaled back due to political instability brought on by the economic crisis.
Newly appointed prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is fighting to form a unity government ahead of Tuesday’s parliamentary session, his first since taking office.
Opposition parties have refused to join any new government unless the president resigns first.

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