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Theoretician of ‘Sinhalese supremacy’ becomes minister

ICC Note: New government official in power means that a dangerous bill designed to prohibit “forcible conversion” will gain more steam in parliament.

2/2/07 Sri Lanka (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious minorities have little to celebrate after the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party, the Sinhalese ultra nationalist all monks party, had its cabinet Omalpe Sobitha Thera, who resigned a few days ago, replaced with prominent militant leader of the National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT), Patali Champika Ranawaka. Mr Ranawaka, who is the JHU’s main theoretician, was sworn yesterday as the country’s new environment and natural resources minister.

Thanks to President Mahinda Rajapakse’s recent cabinet reshuffle, the JHU has joined the ruling coalition; its nine MPs will give the government an absolute majority in parliament.

With Ranawaka in power the government is dashing any hopes left for a peaceful solution to the Tamil Tiger insurgency.

As an ultra-nationalist Sinhalese party, the JHU has always refused power-sharing with Tamil Tiger rebels and has steadfastly opposed Norway’s mediation.

In the past, Ranawaka has also expressed anti-Semitic statements comparing Tamils to the Jews and has been advocate of ‘Aryan Sinhalese supremacy’.

In 2005 the party strenuously opposed sharing any tsunami aid with the rebels.

These changes bode ill for religious minorities as well. The JHU is the main sponsor of the so-called ‘Bill on Prohibition of Forcible Conversion’, a dangerous piece of legislation still under consideration by parliament.

Even Pope Benedict XVI expressed concern over the draft bill because if it becomes law it would require anyone planning to change religion to inform local authorities within a given time period. Furthermore, it states that “no one can convert or try to convert others from one religion by force or fraudulent means.”

Breaking the law would entail seven years in jail and a fine of up to US $5,000.