Sri Lanka police stop elephant protest outside parliament

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s police Thursday blocked a protest involving dozens of elephants as their owners demanded legal recognition to use the sacred animals at Buddhist pageants and cultural events.

Police put up barriers at the main access roads to parliament, but half a dozen elephants, travelling in trucks, managed to slip through the blockade.

Akmeemana Dayaratne, a Buddhist monk who organised the protest, said owners of tame elephants were being persecuted by the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena who came to power in January.

The authorities have arrested several people in recent weeks for illegally keeping elephants who are usually deployed for Buddhist temple ceremonies.

Tame elephants covered with coloured clothing are used to carry caskets of Buddha relics which are paraded annually across the mainly Buddhist country where elephants are also sacred animals.

Dayaratne said there were 161 tame elephants in the country, but not all the owners had licences.

"If we are prosecuted for holding elephants without licences, then the centuries old traditions of ‘perahera’ (pageants) will die a natural death," the monk told AFP.

Tough animal protection laws in recent years have led to a crackdown on owners who mistreat their elephants or lack permits issued by the wildlife department.

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