A Common Cause

Eranga Jayawardena / AP

An ethnic Tamil Sri Lankan woman holds a photo of a missing relative during an Aug. 30 candlelight vigil in Colombo.

On Aug. 1, a throng of heavily armed men in helmets and camouflage vests charged a crowd in Weliweriya, a town northeast of Colombo. Demonstrators had gathered on the streets to demand clean drinking water. Instead, they were met with a volley of live rounds from security forces. At least three civilians were killed and several injured. By the next morning, one eyewitness told a local paper, the military had rinsed the blood off the streets.

Washing such incidents from Sri Lanka's international reputation won't be as easy. The island nation has...

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