Sri Lanka's nationalist Buddhist monks and their supporters launched a campaign Sunday to boycott Islamic halal-slaughtered meat amid mounting religious tensions in the ethnically divided nation.
Thousands of men and women led by hundreds of monks of the Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Force, staged a rally outside Colombo to announce the boycott, demanding that shops clear their stocks of halal food by April.
"More than 90 percent of the population are Buddhists, Hindus and Christian and therefore there is no justification to force them to eat halal products," Buddhist monk Kirama Wimala Jothi said in a statement.
He urged Sri Lanka's non-Muslim majority to boycott any product with the halal label and asked the government to outlaw Islamic clerics issuing such certification.
The halal method of killing an animal requires it to have its throat slit.
The issue has raised new tensions in a country emerging from nearly four decades of ethnic strife which has claimed at least 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates.
The rally came less than three weeks after President Mahinda Rajapakse urged monks not to incite religious hatred and violence amid reports of a wave of attacks targeting Muslims.
The Buddhist Force has disassociated itself with violence saying that there were "duplicate groups" pretending to be them and stirring up trouble.
Less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 20 million are Muslims.
Sri Lanka ended its 37-year Tamil separatist war in May 2009 with the crushing of Tamil rebels, who were mainly Hindus.
Hindus constitute about 12 percent of the population.