Sri Lanka's President Rajapaksa sworn in for new term

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Image caption,
Mr Rajapaksa promised to work for national unity

Mahinda Rajapaksa has been sworn in for his second term as president of Sri Lanka.

He promised to establish lasting peace in the country, where a civil war ended exactly 18 months ago with the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

His re-inauguration came 10 months after he won presidential elections.

Thanks to a recent constitutional change pushed through by his government, this six-year term can be followed by as many others as he likes.

On a red-carpeted podium overlooking the sea, Mr Rajapaksa swore his oath of office in his own Sinhala language.

The ceremony was attended by his wife and his eldest son - who is a member of parliament - and by the heads of the armed forces.

Buddhist monks chanted blessings and a large military march-past was followed by a dance spectacle.

'Wonder of Asia'

Mr Rajapaksa told the crowd that with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers he had built "a much better country".

"When I took over five years ago the country was heading for breakup, but today it is a unified nation where terrorism has been defeated," he said.

Image caption,
Opposition leaders said the celebrations were too expensive

"I have full confidence that the young people of this country will make Sri Lanka the wonder of Asia."

He said the first task was to build national unity and sustainable peace.

If the country was developed, he said, there would be no room for political or ethnic hatred.

Mr Rajapaksa managed to mingle with a few of the crowd, but was soon driven off from the high-security gathering.

The opposition parties have boycotted this week's inauguration festivities, saying they are a waste of money and an act of presidential hubris.

Mr Rajapaksa and his family enjoy huge powers, while the opposition is depleted and demoralised.

The defeated presidential candidate, Sarath Fonseka, has been jailed and faces still more criminal charges brought against him by the government.

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