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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
Sri Lanka coalition in crisis
Chandrika Kumaratunga in parliament
Ms Kumaratunga's parliamentary majority is in doubt
The Sri Lankan Government of Chandrika Kumaratunga has lost its majority in parliament after a key Muslim ally withdrew support.

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauf Hakeem said all 11 party MPs would cross over to the opposition - the government has a majority of four in the 225-member house.

The move came after Mr Hakeem was suddenly sacked from the cabinet where he was Minister of Trade and Shipping. No reason was given for the move.

We have decided to sit in the opposition benches

Rauf Hakeem
His party was thought to be deeply divided and correspondents indicated earlier that it was not clear if Mr Hakeem had the support of his main rival, Feriel Ashraff.

But Mrs Ashraff, the widow of the party's founder M H M Ashraff, said she supported Mr Hakeem's decision to leave the government because his dismissal was an insult to the party leadership.

"As a member of the SLMC, I stand by everything Mr Rauf Hakeem said," she announced, adding that she would give up her ministerial post.

Mrs Ashraff has support in the party's eastern stronghold as well as better relations with the president and reports suggest President Kumaratunga's move to sack Mr Hakeem was an attempt to isolate him within the SLMC.

Tenuous ties

Last week Mr Hakeem warned that his relations with the government were at a very low ebb and said he could be persuaded by either the governing coalition or the opposition.

Rauf Hakeem
Rauf Hakeem: Rocky relationship with the president
On Tuesday his ministry issued a statement denying that Mr Hakeem had met opposition leaders to discuss lending support to a no confidence motion against the government.

The BBC's Frances Harrison in Colombo says it looks as if the government may have decided to push Mr Hakeem before he jumped.

For his part, Mr Hakeem said he was happy to be leaving government.

"The president has helped me to get rid of the guilt I had all these days of staying in a government which from the beginning had no mandate to govern," he said.

It is not yet clear if the SLMC is going to back the opposition United National Party - a move which could cause the ruling coalition to fall.

Under Sri Lanka's constitution, parliament cannot be dissolved until it completes one year of its six-year term - or until 10 October.

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See also:

16 May 01 | South Asia
Muslims demand Sri Lanka talks role
13 Oct 00 | South Asia
New government for Sri Lanka
11 Oct 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Time for co-operation?
10 Oct 00 | South Asia
Violence mars Sri Lanka poll
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