11/27/2014, 00.00
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Sri Lanka Catholics want the government to remove billboards showing president and pope together

by Melani Manel Perera
The Church calls on President Mahinda Rajapaksa not to use the papal visit in his campaign. On 8 January, polls will be held five days before the papal visit. Many fear fraud and violence.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Sri Lanka's Catholic minority has once again called on the government not to use the visit by Pope Francis for political purposes. Catholics also want to see all billboards showing President Mahinda Rajapaksa with the pontiff removed; for many, they are an attempt to "gain votes".

The country is set to go to the poll in a general election on 8 January, just five days before Pope Francis arrives in Colombo for a three-day visit to Sri Lanka, followed by a visit to the Philippines.

Despite steadily rising levels of unpopularity, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has decided to run for a third term, taking the initiative to launch his election campaign. Meanwhile the opposition has not yet fielded a candidate.

Recently, posters with the pope's image saying "Welcome, dear Holy Father' in Sinhalese have been plastered all over the country

Last Saturday, Fr Cyril Gamini, director of the Media and Information Secretariat, released a statement asking all political parties to remove posters and billboards "immediately" and "avoid using the pope or his visit to Sri Lanka in political campaigns ahead of the presidential election."

In order to avoid politicising the visit, some Catholics would like the pope to postpone his visit to prevent it from influencing the election, which is expected to be violent.

In the 2010 elections, the first free from terrorist attacks after almost 30 years of civil war, Mahinda Rajapaksa won his second term amid much controversy and accusations of fraud from the opposition.

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