The main Muslim political party in Sri Lanka has defected from the government and says it will support the opposition candidate in next week's presidential election. It is a major blow to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress announced on Sunday that it was withdrawing from the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (pictured above, left), citing what it alleged was a lack of state protection for Muslims in Sri Lanka.
"The government has failed to protect the Muslims in the country. They have repeatedly come under threats," a leader of the party, Rauf Hakeem, said, adding that all eight of the party's members in parliament were quitting.
The party said it was throwing its support behind Maithripala Sirisena (pictured above, right), a former health minister under Rajapaksa who decided last month to run for president against him in January 8 elections.
Rajapaksa under siege
The announcement is a major blow to Rajapaksa's campaign for a third term in office.
Rajapaksa's ruling United People's Freedom Alliance has so far lost more than 20 lawmakers and ministers to the opposition, with all expressing support for Sirisena.
The government has faced heavy criticism in recent years for supporting radical Buddhist groups to the detriment of minority Muslims.
In June, a mob attack led by an extremist Buddhist on Muslim businesses and houses in Aluthgama, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the capital, Colombo, left three dead and dozens injured. The government did not initiate any action against the mobs involved.
Muslims make up some 10 percent of the Sri Lankan population, while about 70 percent adhere to Buddhism.
tj/se (dpa, AP)