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EU wants Sri Lanka to ensure justice for victims of protest killings, mosque attacks

The European Union on Tuesday urged Sri Lanka to ensure justice for the victims of a recent military shooting on protesters demanding clean drinking water and for those hurt in a spate of attacks on mosques by Buddhist-led mobs.

The E.U. delegation in Colombo said in a statement that it was concerned by the recent incidents, including the death of three civilians during a protest in Weliweriya town northeast of Colombo and a mob attack on a Colombo mosque.

The Weliweriya protesters were accusing a factory in their neighborhood of discharging chemical waste into drinking water.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has come under heavy criticism for deploying the military to break up the peaceful protest Aug. 1, resulting in the fatal shooting of two teenagers and a 29-year-old man. Dozens of other people were wounded as soldiers shot indiscriminately and used poles to beat demonstrators, according to witnesses.

Sri Lanka's Roman Catholic church has accused the military of breaking into St. Anthony's Church in Weliweriya, and beating people who sought refuge there and threatening clergy.

"The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of worship are fundamental to democratic societies and should be protected by the state," the EU statement said.

The E.U. said Sri Lankan authorities should "ensure justice through speedy, impartial investigations" and enable all Sri Lankans "to exercise their human rights freely."

There have been a series of attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned properties fueled by hate speech from Buddhist nationalist groups. Thirty such attacks have been recorded since 2011, with the latest coming on Saturday when a mob attacked a mosque in Colombo during worship, injuring at least seven people.

The nationalists say Muslims who make up 9 percent of the country's 20 million population are a threat to the 70 percent Sinhalese-Buddhist majority. They say Muslims are dominating businesses and trying to take over Sri Lanka demographically by increasing their birthrate and secretly sterilizing Buddhist women.

Rajapaksa told Weliweriya residents on Monday that he would either shut down or relocate the factory. He said tests would be conducted to determine if the factory was responsible for polluting the water supply. If the factory is not found to be responsible for the water crisis, it will still be moved from the residential area to an industrial zone, the president's office said in a statement.

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