COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Sri Lanka on Tuesday as Muslims protested near the president’s office demanding the government allow people dying of COVID-19 to be buried instead of cremated.
Sri Lanka’s Muslims hope Khan will take up the funeral issue when he meets his colleagues on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Khan is due to meet with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his two-day visit.
When Khan, the prime minister of the Muslim majority in Pakistan, began his visit, about 2,000 protesters gathered near the president̵
“He knows the situation and we believe he will raise the issue with the President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka,” Opposition lawmaker Mujibur Rahman said by telephone.
He said the government continues to defy calls for burial despite a promise two weeks ago by Mahinda Rajapaksa to allow them. So far, the government has not allowed them.
Khan previously welcomed Rajapaksa’s insurance in a tweet.
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country where it is common for Buddhists and Hindus, the second largest religious group, to cremate the dead. Muslims make up approx. 7% of the country’s 22 million people.
The government has demanded the cremation of all people who die from COVID-19, saying that the virus in human remains can contaminate underground water.
Muslims and non-Muslims have protested against the rule in the past year, calling it unscientific and insensitive to Muslim religious beliefs. The United Nations and the United States have also raised concerns with the government.
The World Health Organization and Sri Lankan medical organizations have said COVID-19 victims can either be buried or cremated.
Sri Lanka has reported 80,516 cases of coronavirus, including 450 deaths.