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Rajapaksa addresses parliament: focuses on rapprochement, economy and balance between powers

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Parliament (Photo: IANS archive)

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressed the parliament on Tuesday, highlighting the challenges before the country and his government's plans of tackling the economic crisis.

He said that Sri Lanka does not want to get embroiled in global politics between powerful nations. Inaugurating a new session of the ninth parliament, Rajapaksa said: "We are a free sovereign nation. We have no need to intervene in conflicts among powerful nations. While we respect our neighbours, we wish to pursue a policy of friendship with all States".

His comments come at a time when the financially embattled country is being wooed by both India and China for influence and diplomacy. Seeking investments to stave off an economic crisis, the Sri Lankan government has entered into investment with US companies, besides India and China, inviting criticism from the opposition and trade unions.

Rajapaksa also sought rapprochement with the country's Muslim and Tamil minorities in the north and east. Rajapaksa said: "… I urge the Members of Parliament representing the people of the North and East in this Parliament to set aside various political ideologies, at least temporarily, and support the government’s efforts to improve the living conditions of the people in your areas".

He highlighted how the government has been trying to make peace in areas riddled with terrorism and conflict. The president said: "What we need now, however, is to set aside the dark memories of the past and build a secure country where all sections of the community can co-exist in peace. We must all unite for this purpose, irrespective of ethnic, religious or political differences".

He assured that land in the north and east, which had been taken up by the military, will be liberated in the future, and added that the government will do maximum justice to people who are still missing. 

His speech dwelt at length on the human rights issues that dog Sri Lanka at the international level. 

Defending his economic policies, the president said that it is through foreign investment that other countries have progressed. "They used foreign investment to boost the export industry, create new jobs and support local businesses", Rajapaksa said.

Listing out the energy projects in the country, he said that work on the installation of "solar panels on the roofs of government offices has commenced with a loan facility of Rs 20 billion signed with India last year". India has stepped in with financial support to pull Sri Lanka out of a economic and social crisis. 

He highlighted how the government took measures to alleviate the suffering of the people because of inflation and shortage of food and medicines due to the foreign exchange crisis.

Rajapaksa said: "The government decided at the beginning of 2022 to introduce aRs 229 billion relief package to the people.Even in the midst of major economic challenges, these reliefs are being provided because the government is sensitive to the problems of the people".

Speaking about the pandemic, Rajapaksa said that the lockdowns placed obstacles in the path to the country’s economic process. He added that key sectors like tourism, foreign labour and the apparel industry which brought foreign exchange into the country were deeply affected by the pandemic.

Showcasing his government's efforts at public healthcare, Rajapaksa said that his government bore all medical costs and set up quarantine and treatment centres across the country. He said that the government has been able to vaccinate 85 per cent of the targeted population against the Covid-19 pandemic.

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