COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Sri Lanka on Tuesday as Muslims protested near the president’s office to demand that the government allow people who die of COVID-19 to be buried in incinerated place.
Sri Lankan Muslims hope Khan will take up the burial issue when he meets with his counterparts on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Khan will meet with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his two-day visit.
As Khan, the Muslim-majority prime minister of Pakistan, began his visit, some 2,000 protesters gathered near the president’s office in Colombo to demand that burials be allowed for Muslims dying from COVID-19.
“He is aware of the situation and we believe he will discuss the matter with the president and prime minister of Sri Lanka,” opposition lawmaker Mujibur Rahman said by phone.
He said the government continues to challenge burial requests even though Mahinda Rajapaksa pledged two weeks ago to allow them. So far, the government has not allowed them.
Khan welcomed Rajapaksa’s guarantee in a tweet.
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country where it is customary for Buddhists and Hindus, the second largest religious group, to cremate the dead. Muslims represent approximately 7% of the 22 million inhabitants of the country.
The government has demanded the cremation of all people who die from COVID-19, saying the virus in human remains could contaminate groundwater.
Muslims and non-Muslims have protested the rule over the past year, calling it unscientific and insensitive to Muslim religious beliefs. The United Nations and the United States have also expressed concern to the government.
The World Health Organization and Sri Lankan medical groups have said that COVID-19 victims can be buried or cremated.
Sri Lanka has reported 80,516 coronavirus cases, including 450 deaths.