Lanka Muslim party opposes president

Sri Lanka's main Muslim party has withdrawn from a peace panel set up by President Kumaratunga and declared "all out war" against her for trying to splinter the community.

    Kumaratunga has extended her presidential term

    The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) said on Monday it was staying

    away

    from the first meeting of the National Advisory

    Council for Peace and Reconciliation, which Chandrika Kumaratunga launched

    last month.

    SLMC leader Rauf Hakim said the president had engineered the

    defection of three of his legislators over the weekend in an effort

    to change the constitution. He said the move was prejudicial to

    minorities.

    Three SLMC dissidents were sworn in by Kumaratunga at the

    weekend as non-cabinet ministers, boosting the strength of her

    coalition government in the 225-member assembly where it has a wafer

    thin margin.

    "She wants to use our members and form a constituent assembly

    and resort to extra constitutional means to change the constitution

    and perpetuate herself in office," Hakim said.

    Muslim political influence

    The Muslim leader said the government was seeking to change the proportional

    representation system to reduce the number of legislators from

    minority parties, and vowed to stage a campaign to resist the move.

    "She is trying to destabilise the Muslims," Hakim said. "We are

    taking her on. We are declaring all out war on her."

    "She is trying to destabilise the Muslims. We are

    taking her on. We are declaring all out war on her"

    Rauf Hakim,
    SLMC leader

    Muslims, who are the second largest minority after Tamils, form

    7.5% of Sri Lanka's 19 million population, but their block

    vote has considerable leverage as majority Sinhalese votes are split

    down the middle between two parties.

    Tamils who account for 12.5% of the population also have

    a huge influence over national politics.

    Hakim, a member of the previous government's peace negotiating

    team with Tamil Tiger rebels, warned that the country could head for

    more instability and unrest if Kumaratunga pressed ahead with

    changing the statute.

    The government announced last week that Kumaratunga would remain

    in office until December 2006, a year longer than expected since she

    was sworn in for a six-year term in December 1999.

    Political crisis

    Hakim said the political crisis in the country was due to

    Kumaratunga's desire to continue after her current term ended.

    The

    constitution allows a president a maximum of two six-year terms.

    Tamil rebels are fighting for
    independence or autonomy

    Attempts to revive talks with Tiger rebels have failed and

    Kumaratunga has been struggling to boost her support in parliament

    after narrowly winning the April parliamentary elections.

    The United National Party, which was in power during talks with

    the Tamil Tigers and today heads the opposition, has also stayed

    away from the panel. Tamil Tiger proxies boycott it too.

    Any political settlement with the Tamil Tigers would require

    re-writing of the constitution, a move that needs the support of

    two-thirds of the legislature.

    SOURCE: AFP


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