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Sri Lanka showcases military firepower and seeks Buddhist blessings in Independence Day parade

The Sri Lankan government held a massive parade with thousands of troops to showcase its military firepower on Independence Day over the weekend, whilst Tamils in the North-East raised black flags and faced arrests as they protested.

The Sri Lankan president’s media unit said the “celebration took place with pride and grandeur at Galle Face Colombo,” as senior government officials joined military figures for the parade. The Chief of Defence Staff, Commanders of the three armed forces, and the Acting Inspector General of Police Deshabandu Tennakoon were seen escorting president Ranil Wickremesinghe to the main flagpole and saluting troops as they marched. 

The Sri Lankan air force showcased its latest drones, radar systems, and surface-to-air missiles, which it continues to stock despite almost 15 years since it slaughtered tens of thousands of Tamils in the final stages of the armed conflict. The Sri Lanka navy meanwhile showcased a naval fleet, whilst the Offshore Patrol Vessels SLNS Gajabahu, SLNS Sayura, and SLNS Samudura were decked out and at anchorage off the Galle Face. The ceremony also included a 21-gun salute. 

Although there was fanfare on social media about the Sri Lankan national anthem being allowed to be sung in Tamil this year, there was no mention of it in the president's press release. Instead, it declared "25 schoolgirls performed Jaya Mangala Gatha and the auspicious chant “Devo Vassathu Kalena,” - both Buddhist chants. 

The president's press release went on to state "a poignant moment of silence honoured the Sri Lankans who sacrificed their lives for the country’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity”. 

Wickremesinghe skipped the usual address to the nation and instead posted a message on social media, where he claimed "Mother Sri Lanka will undergo a renaissance".

His post came as Tamils across the North-East, as well as those in the diaspora, protested on the day and demanded a political solution that met their demands for self-determination. 

While the parade was going on in Colombo, student protestors from Jaffna were stopped from marching, and tear gas was unleashed upon the peaceful protestors. Five of the students were arrested and subsequently released. In the scuffle, the Leader of the Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), Sivagnanam Shritharan was aggressively manhandled by Sri Lankan police when the Tamil member of parliament tried to remove a protestor from the clutches of police during a protest in Kilinochchi. 

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