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Sri Lankan Buddhist group demands Pope apologize for alleged Christian colonial atrocities

Pope Francis waves during his Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican July 6, 2014.

TONY GENTILE/REUTERS

A Buddhist group accused of instigating recent attacks on Muslims in Sri Lanka says Pope Francis must apologize to Buddhists for atrocities allegedly committed by Christian colonial rulers of the South Asian island nation when he visits next year.

"We are waiting till the Pope comes to see what he is going to say about the crimes here," Rev. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, a leader of Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Power Force group, told a meeting with foreign correspondents.

"The Portuguese, Dutch and the British are all the same to us," he said referring to the countries that had established colonies in Sri Lanka one after another from 1505 to 1948. Roman Catholicism was established in Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, while the Dutch and the British established their own Christian denominations.

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"Previous Popes had made public apologies to certain countries because they destroyed, they killed. We had a similar situation, most of the Buddhist temples were destroyed by them (they) killed Buddhist monks. We would like to see that public apology from him," said Gnanasara, whose comments were made Monday but embargoed until Tuesday.

There was no immediate comment from the Catholic church.

The monks leading Bodu Bala Sena have amassed a significant following in recent years, drawing thousands of followers.

At rallies they have encouraged violence against minorities and called on Sri Lankans to preserve the purity of the Buddhist majority.

Human rights groups say those calls have been the reason for recent attacks on Muslims in southwestern Sri Lanka, which have resulted in several deaths and the looting and torching of businesses owned by Muslims.

Though Muslims are their main target, they often accuse Christian sects of converting Buddhists through financial inducements.

The Pope is expected to visit the Philippines and Sri Lanka in January.

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