President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that proscription of extremist organisations isn’t a problem, but such action does not guarantee that there won’t be further religious strife. The President said so in response to leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) and Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, (Vanni District) at last Thursday’s UPFA party leaders’ meeting at Temple Trees.
Among those present at the party leaders’ meeting were Ministers, Basil Rajapaksa, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Dinesh Gunawardena, Rauff Hakeem, Wimal Weerawansa, Champika Ranawaka, Dallas Alahapperuma, Susil Premjayantha, Dew Gunasekera, Tissa Vitharana and Prabha Ganeshan.
Minister Weerawansa participated in a Cabinet meeting after having skipped five in a bid to pressure the government to accept the NFF’s 12-point plan to change the direction of the ruling coalition.
Referring to a statement made by National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, at the weekly cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Minister Bathiudeen urged the president to proscribe all extremist groups regardless of their ethnicity. Minister Bathiudeen said that extremist organisations should be banned as all agreed to the need for drastic action.
Minister Weerawansa told the Cabinet that Sinhala and Muslim extremists were responsible for the Alutgama violence. The NFF leader said that the problem could be solved only if both parties took remedial measures in the wake of the latest bout of violence.
President Rajapaksa pointed out that extremist actions couldn’t be tackled by arresting those violating laws.
The president alleged that there had been some serious violations of the Constitution by some members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Although they could be arrested, such activities couldn’t be stopped, the president said, adding that those undermining the constitution would seek political gains in case the government arrested them.
When the cabinet took up Alutgama issue, SLMC leader Hakeem directly accused the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) of carrying out last Sunday’s attack. The president pointed out that there were several other matters which contributed to this situation and all parties should act responsibly to defuse the crisis.
Minister Bathiudeen who had been at logger heads with the BBS leadership for some time alleged that members of the BBS weren’t behaving like monks. Their actions were an embarrassment to the Buddhist clergy, the minister said. The president stressed the need to settle the issue, while recalling the circumstances under which a certain Muslim religious leader made a disparaging remark about Lord Buddha. Such a statement could hurt feelings, the president said.
Minister Bathiudeen said that Muslim religious leader had been punished by the judiciary and the sect he belonged to too advised him against such talk.
The president said that the government wasn’t responsible for Alutgama mayhem promoting Minister Hakeem to say the Muslims held the police accountable for the situation.
Amidst fiery words Minister Weerawansa proposed a religious conference to iron out differences.
However, Minister Bathiudeen asserted that trouble erupted because the BBS launched a demonstration in Alutgama.
Responding to Bathiudeen, JHU heavyweight Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka said that they heard of an attack on a Buddhist monk. Speculation was rife that the monk was in a critical condition and that he could even die. “Therefore, I visited the monk and realized that there was no basis for this claim.”
Minister Hakeem blamed the police for failing to take remedial action though posters appeared three days before last Sunday’s protest urging people to join the campaign.
Minister Ranawaka reacted angrily when Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara alleged that the JHU was shielding the BBS.
Minister Bathiudeen reiterated that the BBS demonstration caused mayhem.
Minister Weerawansa pointed out that trouble started after missiles were thrown from nearby mosque at BBS members as they were leaving after the meeting.
The president said that action would be taken against all those responsible for violence irrespective of ethnicity.
By Shamindra Ferdinando