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

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan authorities lifted a countrywide 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 place for most of a week after mob violence left nine dead and more than 225 injured, sparked by attacks on peaceful protesters by government loyalists. .
In recent weeks, protesters across the Buddhist-majority country have demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over 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 caused severe hardship for the country’s 22 million people.
Sunday marks Vesak, the most important religious event in the Sri Lankan calendar, celebrating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.
The government also announced it would lift the curfew for the day without saying when or if it would be re-imposed.
But the ongoing crisis prompted the government to cancel its plans to mark the festival, which had been scheduled at a temple in the south of the island.
“Given the government’s economic situation and other constraints, we will not hold this year’s state festival at the Kuragala temple as planned,” an official from the Ministry of Buddhist Affairs told AFP.
The official said Buddhists were free to hold their own celebrations, including the 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 the Buddha.
But Sri Lanka has been unable to properly organize Vesak for years, with Easter Sunday attacks dampening celebrations in 2019 and the last two years affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s event has been curtailed due to political instability caused by the economic crisis.
Newly appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is struggling to form a unity government ahead of Tuesday’s parliamentary session, the first since he took office.
Opposition parties have refused to join any new administration unless the president resigns first.

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