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Sri Lanka’s fugitive monk surrenders

COLOMBO: A radical Buddhist monk wanted in connection with a string of hate attacks in Sri Lanka surrendered on Wednesday after four weeks on the run, police said.

Galagodaatte Gnanasara gave himself up before a magistrate and was then arrested in connection with arson attacks targeting the island’s minority Muslim community in recent months.

Police spokesman Priyantha Jayakody said he had been released on bail of $8,000 and ordered to refrain from hate speech and inciting violence.

Jayakody said four police teams had been looking for Gnanasara before he turned up in court on Wednesday.

Authorities in the Buddhist-majority nation are under international pressure to crack down on a wave of religious violence that has escalated since April, including arson attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses and the desecration of a cemetery.

Gnanasara was not immediately available for comment but his Buddhist Force, or BBS, has denied allegations it was behind the latest unrest.

The original arrest warrant issued for Gnanasara dates back to April 2014, when he was accused of insulting the Holy Quran.

Months later, anti-Muslim riots at the tourist resort of Aluthgama left four people dead and hundreds of Muslim homes destroyed.

The BBS had said their leader was ready to give himself up if he was assured protection, but Jayakody denied there had been a deal allowing him to emerge from hiding.

Police had already arrested 14 people, including a BBS monk, over the latest violence.

They say four of the suspects in custody are close associates of Gnanasara, who went underground on May 26 when police tried to question him.

Gnanasara maintains close ties with Wirathu, an extremist monk in Mandalay whose hate speech has galvanised religious tensions in Myanmar.

Wirathu visited Sri Lanka as a guest of Gnanasara shortly after the 2014 violence.

The government has vowed to protect Muslims and prevent the violence from escalating. Legislators have promised tougher laws against hate speech.

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