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Sri Lanka: All 9 of Sri Lanka’s Muslim Ministers Resign, as Bombing Backlash Intensifies

Thursday 6 June 2019, by siawi3


All 9 of Sri Lanka’s Muslim Ministers Resign, as Bombing Backlash Intensifies

Image: The Muslim ministers at a news conference on Monday announcing their resignations.CreditCreditLakruwan Wanniarachchi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Dharisha Bastians and Mujib Mashal

June 3, 2019

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — All nine Muslim ministers in Sri Lanka’s government and two Muslim provincial governors resigned on Monday as the fragile, Buddhist-majority country grappled further with the communal backlash of the Easter Sunday bombings that killed as many as 250 people.

The resignations were in response to a hunger strike by an influential Buddhist monk, Athuraliye Rathana, who said he would fast to death unless the country’s president removed three senior Muslim officials — the two provincial governors and one of the ministers — that he accuses of having ties to the suicide bombers who targeted churches and hotels.

The eight ministers not targeted by Mr. Rathana announced their resignations in what appeared to be an act of solidarity with the three officials accused by the monk, who also serves as a member of Parliament and an adviser to the president, Maithripala Sirisena.

Mr. Rathana’s four-day-old hunger strike, which he abandoned after the resignations, were supported by demonstrations in the capital, Colombo, as well as the central hills region of Kandy.

Image: Athuraliye Rathana, an influential Buddhist monk, who said he would fast until he died unless the country’s president removed three senior Muslim officials.CreditEPA, via Shutterstock

At a packed news conference on Monday evening shortly before they broke their Ramadan fast, the nine ministers said they were resigning to ease the turmoil. The Muslim population has been “terrified over the past two days,†said one, Rauff Hakeem, minister of urban development, water supply and drainage.

“We urge the government to expedite any inquiries so that we will be vindicated from these allegations. If any of us are found guilty, they should be punished,†said Mr. Hakeem, who also leads the largest Muslim party in Sri Lanka.

“Our people fear a blood bath,†he said.

Responsibility for the bombings in April, the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the country’s long civil war ended in 2009, was claimed by the Islamic State. Since the attack, the country’s Muslim population, about 10 percent of the total, has increasingly faced suspicion and violence. Last month, mobs attacked Muslim homes and shops, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew, since ended.

The support of Muslim voters and ethnic minority Tamils was decisive in the election victory of Mr. Sirisena in 2014 over the former strongman, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Despite their resignations, the four cabinet ministers and five junior ministers said they would continue to support the fragile government so it does not collapse to the opposition led by Mr. Rajapaksa.

At the bedside in support of the hunger-striker was Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, another hard-line monk who has been accused of inciting violence against Muslims.

Image: A protest in Colombo on Monday.CreditM a Pushpa Kumara/EPA, via Shutterstock

On Sunday, Mr. Gnanasara, who leads the Buddhist Power Force movement and whose six-year sentence for contempt of court was recently annulled by a presidential pardon, gave an ultimatum. There would be “a circus†nationwide, he said, unless the three Muslim politicians were removed from office by noon Monday.

The police have not pointed to any evidence linking the three officials to the attacks. In a letter to Sri Lanka’s president before starting his hunger strike, the monk made vague accusations that the three Muslim politicians were aiding terrorism, and asked for them to be removed from office so an investigation could be carried out properly. The monk also accused Muslim doctors of “an organized plan†in hospitals to reduce the majority Sinhalese race.

The resignations drew condemnation across Sri Lanka, with senior politicians expressing outrage on the communal nature of the demands.

“A shameful day for our beloved Sri Lanka,†said Mangala Samaraweera, the minister of finance.

Abraham Sumanthiran, a senior lawmaker from the Tamil alliance, said it was “unfortunate that Muslim ministers succumbed to pressure from racists.â€

“Yesterday us, today you, tomorrow a new ‘other,†’ Mr. Sumanthiran said.

There was fear that the resignations could set a new precedent in Sri Lanka, which has already seen a rise of Buddhist nationalism. The episode was likely to further erode Sri Lanka’s political stability.

“Buddhism having the foremost place in Sri Lanka seems to be Buddhism having the foremost place in terms of a veto on who can be in government and who cannot be in government,†said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the executive director for the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Dharisha Bastians reported from Colombo, and Mujib Mashal from New Delhi.

A version of this article appears in print on June 4, 2019, on Page A8 of the New York edition with the headline: Sri Lanka’s 9 Muslim Ministers Resign.



Sri Lanka bombings

Sri Lanka Muslim ministers quit to protest ’threat to community’

Muslim ministers resign after hardline Buddhist monks demand their removal following deadly Easter bombings.

by Rukshana Rizwie & Lisa Fuller

3 Jun 2019

Photo: Nine ministers and two provincial governors resigned after campaign from hardline Buddhist monks [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

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Colombo, Sri Lanka - All of Sri Lanka’s Muslim ministers and their deputies have resigned from their portfolios after accusing the government of failing to guarantee the security of the nation’s minority Muslim community amid fears of attacks following the Easter suicide bombings.

The decision comes after hardline Buddhist monks, including firebrand monk Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, set a deadline to the government to fire Muslim provincial governors and a minister.

Gnanasara, who has long been accused of instigating hate crimes against Muslims, was released from jail on a presidential pardon last month.

[( If our ministerial portfolios is in the way, we are willing to give it up for the safety of our community
Rauff Hakeem, the leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress)]

The resignations of nine ministers and two provincial governors come after thousands of people led by Buddhist monks began demonstrating this morning in the country’s central city of Kandy, 115km east of the capital Colombo.

Three weeks ago, mobs swept through Sri Lanka’s North Western Province, destroying hundreds of Muslims’ properties and killing one in apparent reprisal for the April suicide bombings in the island nation - a popular tourist destination.

“It is disturbing to see Muslim politicians being forced to resign their posts on the basis of unproven allegations made by politically powerful religious leaders who claim to speak for the Buddhist majority, backed by a thinly veiled threat of violence,” said Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka Project Director, International Crisis Group, referring to two governors.

“This sets a disturbing precedent, especially in Sri Lanka, where the repeated violation of the due process rights of minorities and political dissidents has contributed directly to Sri Lanka’s decades of extreme political violence,” he told Al Jazeera.

Keenan, however, said that police should investigate the allegations that some Muslim politicians may have been linked to Easter blasts.

Police have been accused of failing to intervene in the attacks in Kottaramulla and Minuwangoda in spite of a government curfew.

More than 250 people were killed in the coordinated attacks on churches and hotels blamed on a local Muslim group, National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ).

READ MORE: In Sri Lanka, Muslims say Sinhala neighbours turned against them

At a press conference on Monday, Rauff Hakeem, the leader of Sri Lanka’s primary Muslim political party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said: “All Muslim cabinet, non-cabinet and deputy ministers - all those representing Muslims - will resign [from their portfolios].”If our ministerial portfolios is in the way, we are willing to give it up for the safety of our community."

He added that the Muslim community was paying a heavy price due to the crimes of a few individuals even after complying with security forces and the government on various rules and regulations such as the closure of madrasas.

He said that the Muslim politicians would continue in their positions as Members of Parliament. The former ministers will sit at the back of parliament and will cease to hold any ministerial positions.

“We will continue to support this government but will give them a grace period of one month to complete their investigations,” he said. “Until such time we don’t feel that it’s suitable to remain in this government.”
Members from the opposition parties protest against Muslim ministers, opposite Fort railway station in Colombo, Sri Lanka 3 June 2019. A Buddhist monk and government parliamentarian Ven. Athureliye Ra
The monk ended his three-day fast earlier on Monday after Western Province Governor Azath Salley and Eastern Province Governor MLAM Hizbullah submitted their resignations [MA Pushpa Kumara/EPA]

Tension in Kandy

Meanwhile, in Kandy, protesters gathered in support of hardline Buddhist Monk Athuraliye Rathana Thero, who began a “fast-unto-death” on Saturday, demanding the sacking of two Muslim governors and a Muslim cabinet minister in the Buddhist-majority island nation of 21 million people, nearly 10 percent of whom are Muslims.

Thero has said the two governors are linked to the Easter bombings.

The monk ended his three-day fast earlier on Monday after Western Province Governor Azath Salley and Eastern Province Governor MLAM Hizbullah submitted their resignations to President Maithripala Sirisena, whose office said they have been accepted.

READ MORE: Suspicion stalks Sri Lanka’s Muslim community after bombings

He was subsequently whisked away in an ambulance to the Kandy National Hospital for treatment.

Tension prevailed in Kandy as the crowd rallied outside the famous Temple of the Tooth Relic, where Buddhists believe a tooth of the Buddha is enshrined. Shops were forced to close and public transport came to a halt in the city that witnessed anti-Muslim riots last year.

Gnanasara, head of the hardline Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or “Buddhist Power Force”, gave a speech at the protest saying, “for the sake of the children of this country, we will defeat these extremists even if it means dying.”

The head of the Catholic Church in Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, also travelled to Kandy on Monday to express solidarity with Thero.

“We support the monk’s campaign because so far justice has not been served,” Ranjith told AFP in Kandy.
’Create fear psychosis’

Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka’s minister of finance, tweeted that the cardinal was “fanning the flames of hatred” by participating in the protest.

In his resignation letter addressed to Sirisena, Hizbullah said there had been a “calculated attempt to discredit the Muslim community and create fear psychosis” over the Easter bombings.

“As part of an attempt to target my community, racist forces have called for my resignation without any reason,” he wrote.

The Muslim politician said as he was “convinced that the Muslim community’s safety cannot be guaranteed” he had decided to resign “only in the interest of my community”.

Sri Lanka imposed a state of emergency in the wake of the Easter attacks, empowering security forces to arrest and detain suspects. Nearly 100 people linked to the local NTJ group have been arrested since then, according to the government.

Photo: Sri Lanka protest
Demonstrations outside the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy demand the sacking of Muslim politicians [AFP]