Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he would continue with Sri Lanka’s “Buddhist philosophy” and vowed to ensure that “extremist organizations” will not be allowed to function on the island, as he addressed a military parade in Colombo to mark Sri Lanka’s Independence Day.
Heavily armed soldiers marched before the Sri Lankan president in what has become a traditional show of force in Colombo, showcasing heavy weaponry including tanks and multi barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs) – the same types used in the shelling of hospitals and the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamils a decade ago.
“Sri Lanka is a Unitary State,” Rajapaksa declared in the opening line of his speech. “It is a free, sovereign, independent and democratic Republic. On this occasion when we celebrate 72 years of Independence after nearly 500 years of imperialist colonial rule, I address you as the Head of the State with a pledge to further strengthen your freedom.”
He went on to claim that Sri Lanka “is a country that has been nurtured by the Buddhist philosophy”.
“In the Buddhist philosophy, our leaders always have been advised to ensure a lawful, just and fair governance where no citizen is discriminated,” he added. “I am committed to protecting and nurturing the Buddhist philosophy of this country during my tenure.”
As Rajapaksa addressed the crowd, flanked by leaders of the military who like the president, stand accused of war crimes, Tamils across the North-East launched a series of protests. Black flags were hoisted at rallies across the Tamil homeland, whilst students at the University of Jaffna were refused access to their campus after they expressed support for the protest campaign.
“If due to terrorists, extremists, thieves, thugs, extortionists, women and child abusers, there is impediment to ordinary life of the people, then the people will not be free,” Rajapaksa went on to claim. “We have paid special attention to strengthening the National Security and Public Security.”
“We will not allow extremist organizations that pave the way for terrorism to further function in the country,” the Sri Lankan president warned.
Since his election victory in November, Sri Lanka has seen a crackdown on journalists and human rights defenders. Last month, Tamil jouranlists in Batticaloa received direct death threats, whilst others in the south have been attacked.
Rajapaksa though seemed to brush off those incidents, stating that “the media has complete freedom today”.
I request everyone to act in accordance with one’s conscience,” he concluded. “Always think about the country. Think about your fellow citizens. Without thinking only about political requirements, think carefully about whether your actions and your words will benefit or harm the country.”
See the full text of his speech here.