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Sri Lanka leader calls for unity after poll win

[AFP, Thursday, 4 February 2010 09:51 No Comment]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse on Thursday issued an independence day call for unity and reconciliation after his victory in a bitterly fought election.

Rajapakse in an address to the nation said the island’s freedom day assumed great significance as it was the first since the defeat of separatist Tamil Tiger rebels by government troops last year.

"The freedom from colonial rule that we gained 62 years ago is now more meaningful because we have been liberated from the forces of separatist terror that marred our freedom for nearly half that period," he said.

Rajapakse said the armed campaign for an ethnic homeland waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had "gravely threatened the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country".

The president, who last week easily won a second term in office, said he wanted to promote unity among the divided 20-million population, though many Tamils remain suspicious of his Sinhalese government.

"It is necessary that we give priority to the tasks of national reconciliation and the building of trust among all sections of our people," Rajapakse said in a speech marking Sri Lanka’s independence from Britain in 1948.

He also called for improved ties with Western nations who criticised the military offensive that, according to the United Nations, may have led to thousands of civilian casualties.

The US and the European Union stopped aid insisting that Sri Lanka should improve its human rights record while battling Tamil rebels.

"We are entering into a new era of co-existence after finishing the period of some controversy," Rajapakse said. "I would like to say that we are now entering the golden era of international relations."

Rajapakse allied himself with China, Iran, Libya and Pakistan for military and financial aid, causing deep unease among Western nations as well as neighbouring India.

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