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Buddhist Monks Hospitalized After Brawl

June 8, 2004

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Government and opposition lawmakers brawled on the floor of Sri Lanka’s parliament Tuesday, in a fistfight that injured two Buddhist monks.

The scuffle broke out when members of the president’s governing party tried to block Akmeemana Dayaratana _ a member of a Buddhist monk-led opposition party _ from taking his oath to become a member of Parliament, officials at the legislature said on condition of anonymity.

Dayaratana and another monk, Kollonnawe Sri Sumangala, were hurt in the fight and taken to a hospital.

Dayaratana was replacing another lawmaker monk who had broken ranks with his party to support the government and then resigned from parliament.

Government lawmakers _ reluctant to lose crucial support in the closely divided legislature _ is trying to prevent Dayaratana from stepping in. The government has contested the resignation in court, and its lawmakers argued that he shouldn’t be replaced while his case is pending.

Despite the fracas, Dayaratana was sworn in.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s coalition has 108 seats in the 225-member legislature, leaving it five seats short of a majority and unable to push its agenda. The monks’ National Heritage Party has nine seats _ enough to tilt the balance of power during votes.

The monks’ party, irked by Tuesday’s incident, vowed not to support Kumaratunga.

``We were ready at one point to support the government. But now, no way,″ said monk Uduwe Dhammaloka.

About 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s 19 million people are Buddhists, and monks hold tremendous influence.

The monks in the National Heritage Party say their religion is threatened by the influence of the Tamil Tiger rebels, who back Sri Lanka’s mostly Hindu ethnic Tamil minority.

Kumaratunga has been known for a hardline stand against the rebels but has been making efforts to resume peace talks. Without a parliament majority, she has made little progress.

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