Tension over the presence of Sri Lankans in Tamil Nadu boiled over into violence as a convoy of buses carrying nearly 180 Sri Lankan pilgrims was stoned by miscreants near here on Tuesday.

The windshields and windowpanes of three buses were damaged as protesters hurled stones at Kattur.

The visitors, on a pilgrimage to Christian shrines, underwent anxious moments through their journey from Velankanni to the Tiruchi airport, as members of political parties and Tamil organisations staged protests en route.

Most pilgrims were Tamil-speaking Sri Lankans, a point that was lost on the protesters who targeted them. The police claimed that none was injured. They were escorted by a police team from Nagapattinam district, and the stone-throwing was rather unexpected, police sources said.

Eyewitnesses said the frightened occupants, including women and children, were screaming. The handful of miscreants fled the scene soon after damaging the windshields and windowpanes of the buses. “We are pursuing some clues and hope to make arrests,” Lalitha Lakshmi, Superintendent of Police, Tiruchi, said.

Later in the day, the Tiruchi district police secured eight MDMK workers in connection with the Kattur incident.

The visitors flew out of Tiruchi in a special plane on Tuesday night, many unhappy that they had to cut short their visit to famous shrines.

After being prevented by demonstrators from attending a religious event at the Poondi Matha Basilica in Thanjavur district on Monday night, they went to Velankanni Shrine on Tuesday morning. There, they were obstructed by members of the Naam Tamizhar Iyakkam and the MDMK. However, the pilgrims were protected by a strong posse of police. Nine protesters were secured.

Travelling through Tiruvarur, some MDMK workers flung pieces of footwear at the vehicles proceeding to Tiruchi. The police registered cases against them.

In Tiruchi, the police made some preventive arrests.

Earlier, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi workers staged a demonstration in Thanjavur, condemning Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju’s remark that the training of Sri Lankan defence personnel in India would continue.