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Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Sri Lanka protest at Burma visit

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Sacred Tooth Relic Chief Custodian Pradeep Nilanga Dela (C) walks in a procession with visiting Myanmar leader Than Shwe  in Kandy
General Than Shwe has visited prominent Buddhist sites

There has been a demonstration in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, against the visit of the Burmese head of state, General Than Shwe.

Burmese monks living in Sri Lanka have also protested against the visit.

The general is on his first overseas trip for five years, and this is the first visit to the island by a Burmese leader for more than 40 years.

Sri Lanka and Burma have religious and cultural ties going back centuries. Many Burmese monks study in Sri Lanka.

Shouting that General Than Shwe should leave Sri Lanka, this small group of demonstrators held banners accusing the Burmese military government of grave human rights abuses and calling them "killers of Buddhist monks" - a message they hope will resonate in this country which is itself over 70% Buddhist.

"We are ashamed to see these kind of military leaders visiting our country. So we staged this protest to mark our sign of protest and our disgust for this kind of visit," lawyer Shiral Lakthileka said.

An association of Burmese monks in Sri Lanka has echoed these sentiments, criticising Than Shwe's visit.

In a statment they said they would refuse all offerings from Than Shwe and his delegation if they come to their temples - an action considered highly insulting.

Many Burmese monks studying in Sri Lanka have a large temple in the capital.

But monks from Sri Lanka itself are due to bestow blessings on the general before he leaves.

The official flags of welcome are out for Than Shwe on this rare foreign trip for him.

The Sri Lankan government, annoyed by Western criticism of its conduct of the war, has been moving closer to states that are out of favour in Western capitals.

Burma was President Rajapaksa's first foreign destination after the war victory earlier this year.



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