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'I am a Sinhala Buddhist leader and will never hesitate to say so' - Rajapaksa addresses Sri Lanka's independence day

Accused war criminal and Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa 

Across the Tamil homeland as Tamil and Muslims marched in unison and raised ‘black flags’ protesting state oppression and families of the disappeared began hunger strikes; Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivered his speech flanked by accused war criminals in the south to mark a heavily militarised independence day.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his opening paragraphs noted his recent electoral win stating that “at a juncture when our nation’s heritage, its traditions, its national identity and patriotism were under serious threat, more than 6.9 million people elected me as President to provide the leadership needed to restablish national security”. He added “I am a Sinhala Buddhist leader and I will never hesitate to state so. I govern this country in accordance with Buddhist teachings. Within the Buddhist philosophic tradition of peaceful coexistence which gives respect to all religions and ethnicities”.

Full transcript : Gotabaya Rajapaksa 73rd independence day 

Sinhala only national anthem 

As the Sri Lankan flag was hoisted by the president, the national anthem was only sung in Sinhalese. Gotabaya Rajapaksa stood by his words stating he is a ‘Sinhala Buddhist leader’, in an independence celebration where the Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony was placed at the forefront in the south.

Throat slits and salutes

As the military parade began, a familiar figure returned to the fore, as recently promoted Sri Lankan soldier Priyanka Fernando led the guard of honour. Fernando was convicted in a British court for motioning death threats to Tamil protestors in London. He made ‘throat-slitting gestures’ towards Tamil protestors outside the Sri Lankan high commission in 2018, today he led the guard of honour in saluting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as their procession went past.

Fernando motioning death threats to Tamils in London.

Lion amendments

Accused war criminal: Kamal Gunaratne 

Another accused war criminal and Sri Lanka's defence secretary Kamal Gunaratne, had highlighted before the parade that discussions were underway regarding the amendment of the Sri Lankan flag. reported the Daily News.

“Proposals were made by some in society that there are shortcomings in the Lion image” he said. The defence secretary had noted that due to time constraints, such amendments would not be visible on the flag hoisted for Independence Day. Though this did not stop multiple amended flags brandishing only a lion being displaced across the south often accompanied with the colours of Buddhist flags.

Military promotions 

Accused war criminal Shavendra Silva (Centre)

Meanwhile, yet another accused war criminal and army chief Shavendra Silva led several promotions of 12 senior brigadiers to the rank of Major General from the Sri Lankan army with the approval of the president’s office. All branches of Sri Lanka’s military stand accused of committing war crimes. Shavendra Silva who is currently under sanctions from the US ‘due to credible information’ of his involvement in committing gross violations of human rights, led the notorious 58th division during the armed conflict which is noted to have committed some of the most heinous crimes. Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were indiscriminately killed towards the end of the armed conflict due to state forces.

Military parade

See more photos from Sri Lanka's military parade, which showcased heavy weaponry used against Tamils during the armed conflict, below.

Read more from the Daily News and the Sri Lankan army here and here.

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