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Sri Lanka PM has not sought audience with Pope, says foreign ministry after Cardinal’s remarks

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa never sought an audience with Pope Francis during his visit to the Vatican, the foreign ministry said after the head of the country’s Catholic church Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith claimed the visit was an attempt to mislead the Vatican about the 2019 Easter attack probe.

“At no stage has the Prime Minister requested nor received an invitation to visit the Vatican for an audience with His Holiness the Pope,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday (08).

The ministry said both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will visit Bologna, Italy, to take part in an international event which is to be attended by the Prime Minister of Italy and other dignitaries from Italy and other European countries.

“The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the opening session of the international symposium which will be held in one of Europe’s oldest seats of learning, the University of Bologna,” the statement said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Cardinal Ranjith said that briefing the Pope on action taken by the government would be “childish” and “degrading”.

The Cardinal, who had earlier refused to meet foreign minister G L Peiris until the government fulfils some conditions, told journalists that a local English daily quoting cabinet Co-spokesman Ramesh Pathirana had said that the visit was to brief Pope Francis on action taken by the government over the attack.

“When there is a deadly pandemic in the country, we’re seeing a conspiracy being attempted to cover up the Easter Sunday attack,” Cardinal Ranjith told the media briefing.

“[The cover-up) is done by the current government,” he claimed.

“I condemn this trip [to the Vatican] because they are attempting a coverup and trying to mislead the Pope and the international community.”

On August 13, Ranjith demanded an explanation on an alleged attempt to pin the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

He claimed that a military intelligence officer referred to as ‘Sonic’ had used one ‘Zaharan of Matale’ to call an unspecified person in Indonesia to “force” ISIS to claim responsibility for the attack.

Sri Lanka’s Christian community last month hoisted black flags at churches and homes to express anger over the government’s investigation into the Easter bombings which killed 269 people and injured over 500.

Cardinal Ranjith has repeatedly said that the investigation into the blasts was not being conducted properly. He has said he believes the real conspirators are still at large and has hinted at alleged attempts to shield the masterminds.

Ranjith wrote a strongly-worded letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July claiming that there are allegations that some members of the state intelligence services knew and met with the attacker who initially did not explode his bomb. The Archbishop appealed to the authorities to investigate these allegations.

Citing speeches in Parliament by lawmakers, Ranjith said intelligence personnel had also allegedly had a suspect released from police custody.

President Rajapaksa’s government had denied any inadequacy in the investigations into the attacks.

“Trying to hide in the international arena is childish,” Cardinal Ranjith said.

“I tell the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, please do not do such a degrading act. It may hit your own head again,” he said.

The cardinal further said Sri Lanka’s Catholic church has already informed Vatican authorities as it was forced to take up the issue internationally and the matter is expected to be raised at the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva next week.

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