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‘India gave a breath of life’: Sri Lankan President

President Wickremesinghe said that had the oil tanks in Trincomalee at Sri Lanka’s Eastern coast were developed together with India, the fuel crisis would not have worsened.

SUSITHA FERNANDO/ IANS | Colombo |

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday thanked India, saying the closest neighbour has given ‘a breath of life’ to the country that was economically ailing with major shortages of essential items such as food, fuel, medicine and many more.

“I wish to specially mention the assistance provided by India, our closest neighbour, in our efforts in economic revitalisation. The Government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given us a breath of life,” Wickremesinghe said delivering his maiden Presidential Policy statement in Parliament or Throne Speech opening the parliament.

“On behalf of my people and that of my own, I convey our gratitude to Prime Minister Modi, the Government and people of India,” the Sri Lankan President said.

President Wickremesinghe said that had the oil tanks in Trincomalee at Sri Lanka’s Eastern coast were developed together with India, the fuel crisis would not have worsened.

“When we tried to develop the oil tank complex in Trincomalee together with India, it was stated that Sri Lanka would be a sell out to India and this development project was halted. If at that time we were allowed to develop the oil tank complex, today people would not have to spend many days in queues for fuel,” Wickremesinghe charged.

He also was grateful for the free ambulance service gifted by India in 2016, when he was leading the government as the Prime Minister and noted that “thousands of lives have been saved”.

He also expressed gratitude for Indian grant of $7.56 million, the ‘Suwa Seriya’ meaning ‘a journey for good health’ started in the Western and Southern provinces with nearly 90 ablulances and later expanded to cover all nine provinces with nearly 300 ambulances, purchased from Tata Motors – with an additional Indian grant of $15.09 million.

During Covid, the service with a hotline ‘1990’ played a major role to save thousands of lives.

The new President also stressed the importance of maintaining a non-aligned foreign policy for the Indian Ocean island nation for cordial and friendly relationships with all countries.

“I would also like to make special reference on the foreign policy of our country. Due to the instability of the foreign policy, we faced many disadvantages and setbacks in the international arena. I will change this situation. All countries of the world are our friends. We have no enemies. We do not belong to any group. I will ensure the adoption of a cordial and friendly foreign policy with all countries,” President Wickremesinghe said.

While Sri Lanka holds historic, cultural and ethnic ties with India, the other major super power in the region, China, island’s largest bilateral creditor and trade partner has been in a race to mark its presence throughout the country.

However, according to reports while China has still provided economically bankrupt country with humanitarian assistance of a mere US$74 million, India from January has assisted with nearly $4 billion assistance for food, fuel and medicine.

During his speech, President Wickremesinghe said he would prepare a National Economic Policy for the next 25 years, to get the economy out of the present crisis and to lead it to become a developed country by the year 2048, the year it marks the 100 anniversary of Independence.

From early this year, Sri Lanka has been going through, the worst-ever economic crisis in its history with major shortages of essential commodities. The island nation witnessed cash crunch, people taking to the streets leading to toppling of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Mahinda Rajapaksa-led governments.

Amid massive violent protests on May 9, the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped down with his cabinet and Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced his resignation on July 9 and fled the country.

Wickremesinghe, who occupied the post of Prime Minister vacated by Mahinda Rajapaksa was later promoted as Acting President. He was later elected as the President from the Parliament with the backing of pro-Rajapaksa lawmakers.