Islamic clerics in Sri Lanka tried to calm mounting religious tensions in the majority Buddhist nation Thursday by telling stores not to sell halal-slaughtered meat to non-Muslims.
Food manufacturers have been labelling all their products "halal" for convenience, meaning until now non-Muslims have not had any choice in the matter.
Buddhist hardliners argue they should not be forced to consume food that is prepared according to Islamic religious rites. They say the halal certificate represents the "undue influence" of Muslims and is an "affront" to non-Muslims.
The halal method of killing an animal requires it to have its throat slit.
The clerics' move to diffuse tensions came after thousands of nationalist Buddhists staged a rally last weekend to demand that all shops in the country clear their stocks of halal food by April.
Nationalist Buddhist monks and their supporters also launched a campaign to boycott halal-slaughtered meat as well as other products which carry a halal certificate.
Muslim clerics said the boycott organised by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or Buddhist Force, has created tensions that could erupt into full-blown violence in a country recovering from decades of ethnic war.
And the the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), Sri Lanka's main body of Islamic clergy, which issues the halal certificates, Thursday asked retailers to ensure certified products were offered only to Muslims.
"We want to promote peaceful co-existence and harmony," ACJU president Mufti Rizwe told reporters in Colombo.
President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is also a Buddhist, urged monks not to incite religious hatred and violence amid reports of a wave of attacks and intimidation targeting Muslim businesses.
The Buddhist Force has disassociated itself from the violence, saying there are "duplicate groups" pretending to be them and stirring up trouble.
Sri Lanka's ethnic civil war claimed at least 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009, when Tamil rebels were crushed in a major military offensive.
Less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 20 million is Muslim.