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Saturday, 16 September, 2000, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Key minister killed in Sri Lanka crash
President Chandrika Kumaratunga
MHM Ashraff had been a key ally of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is pictured voting last year
Sri Lanka's most prominent Muslim leader is among a group of people who were killed when a helicopter crashed east of the capital Colombo.

The authorities believe engine failure caused the accident, killing more than a dozen on board.

MHM Ashraff was a key political ally of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, even though his Sri Lankan Muslim Congress Party has recently experienced a turbulent relationship with other members of her People's Alliance coalition government.

The BBC correspondent in Colombo says Mr Ashraff's death is a personal blow to President Kumaratunga and will have an effect on the forthcoming elections as he was seen as being able to unite Sri Lanka's Muslim minority.

Sever ties

Last month however, he resigned, following a character clash with another Muslim minister, AHM Fowzie, who is a member of President Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

Mr Ashraff's resignation was not accepted by the president but it appears that political differences between him and other ministers remained.

He is reported to have issued a statement shortly before the fateful helicopter journey saying that he had decided to sever all ties with the People's Alliance on a permanent basis.

Mr Ashraff had a reputation of getting legislation quickly through parliament.

He also held the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction portfolios and is credited with making the port of Colombo operate more efficiently and with attracting Western investment into Sri Lanka.

Mr Ashraff was also renowned for his poetry, written in Tamil, which upset some in the Buddhist community because of what they said were its derogatory references to the Buddha.

See also:

11 Sep 00 | South Asia
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