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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday opened Parliament with a vow to maintain the country’s sovereignty while strengthening diplomatic and trade relations abroad. A month after his victory at the polls, the 70-year-old leader pledged that Sri Lanka would strive to develop friendly links with all nations but would never give up its independence.
His comments came during an opening speech at the fourth session of the eighth Parliament, held in the capital Colombo, in which he promised to fight terrorism, extremism and crime while tackling poverty and youth unemployment.
Outlining his government’s policy statement “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor” at the meeting, Rajapaksa said: “We must establish an honorable governance that will allow this country to maintain its sovereignty, security, national pride, and deal with all nations on equal terms, without demonstrating weakness in our diplomatic or trading relationships.
“We will never allow other countries to take over our economically significant geographic regions or physical resources.”
In aiming to ensure that the Sri Lankan people would become proud of the country’s global standing, he added: “We can overcome all the obstacles in our path to reaching that goal if we unite as a nation.”
Rajapaksa noted that the people who elected him to office wanted a profound change in the political culture of Sri Lanka.
“They rejected political agendas founded on race. The majority of the people proved that it is no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control the politics of this country by playing the role of king maker.
“I call upon all to join together in the national undertaking to develop this country, and to reject the politics based on petty agendas that have sown division in our society in the past,” he said.
“We must always respect the aspirations of the majority of the people. It is only then that the sovereignty of the people will be safeguarded.”
Pointing out that there was a social, economic and political crisis in the country, the president said: “Even after 70 years of independence, we cannot be satisfied with the country’s development. We all have a responsibility to change this situation. We must be prepared to make the sacrifices required for this.
“The primary responsibility of a people’s representative is service to the people. We should all remember that the offices we hold are not privileges, but responsibilities.
“We will take all necessary steps to make our motherland a safe country free of terrorism, extremism, underworld activities, theft and robbery, extortionists, the drug menace, disruptions of public order, and the abuse of women and children.
“Our primary purpose is to create a productive citizen, a happy family, a disciplined society and a prosperous nation,” he added.
“Eliminating poverty is a priority of our government. We must understand the causes of poverty and find solutions to eliminate such causes. We will be able to alleviate poverty by finding practical approaches to issues such as the lack of proper education or skills, the lack of land for cultivation, or the lack of capital for self-employment.
“We have made plans to find employment opportunities for 100,000 young men and women from low-income families within the next month. My government is prepared to present practical solutions to resolve unemployment, with the public sector and the private sector working together.”
During the maiden session, the president’s brother Mahinda Rajapaksa took the seat of the prime minister, while defeated presidential candidate, Sajith Premadasa, took the seat of leader of the opposition in the new Parliament.
The United National Party (UNP) parliamentary group has nominated Gayantha Karunathilaka as opposition chief whip in Parliament. Meanwhile, Dinesh Gunawardena will become leader of the house with Johnston Fernando taking on the role of government chief whip.
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