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

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan authorities lifted a nationwide curfew for a major Buddhist festival on Sunday, with celebrations muted as the island weathers a worsening economic crisis.
A nationwide stay-at-home order is in effect for most of the week after mob violence left nine dead and more than 225 injured, fueled by attacks on peaceful protesters by government loyalists.
In recent weeks, protesters in 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 prolonged power outages, have brought severe hardship to the country’s 22 million residents.
Sunday marks Vesak, the most important religious event on Sri Lanka’s calendar, which celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha.
The government also announced it would lift the curfew for that day without saying when or if it would be reinstated.
But the ongoing crisis prompted the government to cancel its plans to celebrate the festival, which was planned in a temple in the south of the island.
“Given the government’s economic situation and other constraints, we will not have a state festival at Kuragala Temple this year as planned,” a Buddhist Affairs ministry official told AFP.
The official said Buddhists are 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 “pandal” bamboo stages with large paintings depicting stories from Buddha’s life.
But Sri Lanka has been unable to properly ramp up Vesak for years as the Easter Sunday attacks impacted celebrations in 2019 and the last two years by the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s event has been canceled 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 a new government unless the president resigns first.

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