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Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) leader Rauff Hakeem today admitted he received a verbal lashing from President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a cabinet meeting but dismissed it as no more than an "expression of ideas". Hakeem, the Minister of Justice, noted there was speculation in the media that an irate Rajapakasa had spoken ill of him and his party at the cabinet meeting yesterday. But he told a gathering near here: "This was a free expression of ideas.
True that the President became somewhat aggressive in his expression. This type of thing can happen in a democracy. "The President himself promotes free ideas at cabinet meetings," he said. The SLMC is a member of the ruling coalition led by Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Its relationship with the coalition has been under strain since the Buddhist nationalist group, Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), launched a campaign against Muslims in 2012. The SLMC has been accused by some of taking attacks allegedly by the BBS on Muslim religious sites and businesses to the international community. The independent Daily Mirror today had a report headlined "Irate President takes on SLMC", which said Rajapaksa had asked Hakeem to decide if he and his party want to continue in the coalition. Two nationalist ministers had recently taken Hakeem to task over a document allegedly provided by SLMC to UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navy Pillay when she visited Sri Lanka last year. The document purportedly gave details of attacks against religious minorities and government inaction on them.