Page last updated at 14:17 GMT, Friday, 4 September 2009 15:17 UK

S Lanka Muslim protest at police

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Muslim demonstrators in Colombo - 040909

Dozens of Muslims have staged a protest in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, at what they say is police brutality against members of the community.

They allege that several people have been killed or have disappeared.

In the past few weeks the police have announced the killing of men they describe as underworld figures, usually in encounters on the street.

The police in the capital say that they are engaged in a necessary clampdown on organised crime.

Once Friday prayers ended at the Friday Mosque in the Muslim area of Maligawatta, several dozen men and women marched down the street, shouting anti-police slogans.

Their posters said "Ramadan Wet with Blood" and "Innocent to Sacrifice".

Three people were killed last Friday in a single incident.

Almost all of the victims the police describe as "underworld figures" or "involved in crime" are Muslims.

Police argue the incidents have nothing to do with ethnicity and say that they are cracking down on criminals.

Some demonstrators said more than 16 people had died in this way and that some of the victims were not criminals, but pointed out that even criminals should be treated with due legal process.

"They don't have the right to kill those people - there should be a law, courts of law. Actually it's a jungle of the law.

"So we want show the government, the entire world, that there is no law in this country," MN Abuakbar who works for a local human rights organisation, said.

The government is unapologetic. It says it wants to use the same resources it used against the now defeated Tamil Tigers, against the underworld.

It says police have been killing criminals in self-defence when they have drawn guns.

The media are mostly supportive.

But one of the speakers at the Muslim protest, which was partially organised by leftist parties, said that if the current situation continued, Muslims in Colombo might take up weapons.

Muslims in Sri Lanka are the third largest group in Sri Lanka's ethnic make-up.

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