COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka marked 75 years since independence with a sombre military parade yesterday, as its president urged reflection on past “errors and failures” at a time of national crisis.
Since the 1948 end of British rule, the island nation has spent much of its history at war with itself, including a decades-long Tamil separatist rebellion that claimed up to 100,000 lives and two deadly communist insurgencies.
Its 22 million people are also still reeling from the hardships triggered by an unprecedented economic collapse last year that brought months of food and fuel shortages.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office last July at the peak of the resulting political unrest, said yesterday’s anniversary came at “an extremely critical and challenging time”.
“It presents an opportunity for us not only to review our strengths and gains as a nation but also to rectify our errors and failures,” he said in a statement.
Wickremesinghe, flanked by top military brass, watched the hour-long procession of soldiers and army vehicles along a seafront promenade in the capital Colombo, inaugurated by ceremonial artillery fire but boycotted by opposition parties.
For several months last year the boulevard was the site of a protest encampment erected by Sri Lankans outraged over the island’s economic calamity and mismanagement by its leaders.
The protest movement peaked in July when a huge crowd stormed the home of Wickremesinghe’s predecessor and chased him into temporary exile, from where he issued his resignation.
Wickremesinghe ordered security forces to dismantle the camp hours after he was sworn into office and has since set about repairing Sri Lanka’s ruined finances.
His government has hiked taxes and is negotiating with international creditors including India and China to clear the way for an urgently needed International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.
“I am confident that even at this juncture we will pool our energies… to rise up from the current economic abyss and build back stronger,” Wickremesinghe’s statement said.