SL celebrates I-Day amid boycott by Oppn, public protests

By Susitha Fernando

COLOMBO, Feb 4 (IANS): Highlighting the gravity of financial crisis Sri Lanka has been undergoing, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, whil addressing the nation on the eve of 75th Independence, said "we have reached the point of destruction."

President was addressing the nation following the Independence Day celebrations attended by a large number of foreign dignitaries and envoys but boycotted by all major opposition political parties and the Catholic Churchand amidst public protests against huge cost that had to be borne for the celebrations.

The main minority Tamil representative party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) boycotted the Independence Day celebrations and declared it as a 'Black Day'.

The Catholic Church protested against the spending of over $500,000 (200 million in Sri Lanka rupee) for the Independence Day while the Indian Ocean island was going through its worst ever economic crisis. "Sri Lankan citizens have become prisoners of poverty and a brutal dictatorship," stated the head of the Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.

"Politicians have failed to find practical solutions to the crisis. A government that has no money to bring medicine to the country, spends 200 million rupees to celebrate independence with great pride," the Church leader charged.

Meanwhile, on Friday night, police violently chased away a group of protestors who staged a Satyagraha against the Independence Day celebrations and some of them had been arrested. The protestors were a section who led a thre-month long continuous protest from April until former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government led by his brother Mahindawere forced step down.

However, President Wickremesinghe who took over reins and managed to control the week-long queues for food, fuel and cooking gas, vowed that he would introduce new political reforms and with the aim of taking Sri Lanka to a developed country by 2048, the centenary of the Independence.

"I'm not attempting to treat the superficial condition with painkillers. But to treat the root cause of the malaise. It is challenging and difficult, but it's our only option. I know that many of the decisions I have been compelled to take since assuming the presidency have been unpopular. However, because of those decisions, today no citizen of this country will die of dehydration in oil queues. You won't starve without gas. Not curse without fertilizer," Wickremesinghe, who runs the country with the Rajapaksa loyalist majority parliament, said.

"There are those who want to keep perpetuating this wound forever, though I don't wish. Let's seek to heal this wound though it's difficult and painful. If we endure the suffering and pain for a short period of time, we can get the wound healed completely," Wickremesinghe said referring to the dire situation where people had to face soaring cost of living and massive tax hikes introduced from January.

"Today, we are facing an unprecedented economic crisis, hitherto never experienced. Why have we to face such a situation? Who is responsible for such? Let's be truthful. All of us are more or less responsible for this situation. None of us can point fingers and blame each other. We made mistakes from the beginning. Efforts were made to rectify those mistakes, though it was not possible to correct them completely," the President confessed.

Sri Lankan President also announced that measures have been taken to introduce maximum devolution of powers in a unitary state, a promise that had been made to India which intervened to solve the ethnic crisis mainly between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. In 1987, Indo-Lanka Accord was signed between the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Lankan President J.R. Jayawardene with a Constitutional amendment devolve power at a Provincial level.

Wickresinghe announced on the release of Tamil national owned lands that were occupied by the military since during the war and freeing of former Tamil rebel fighters who had been incarcerated for long years, a demand made by Tamil political parties and the others.

Meanwhile Indian State Minister of External Affairs V. Muraleedharan, who represented India at the Independence celebration, met President Wickremesinghe on Saturday evening and conveyed greetings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the 75th Independence Day of Sri Lanka.

The Indian Minister also appreciated the measures taken by the Sri Lankan government to ensure ethnic harmony and also had discussed the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.



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Title: SL celebrates I-Day amid boycott by Oppn, public protests

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