COLOMBO – Sri Lanka kicks off its 68th anniversary celebrations of political independence from British colonial rule on Thursday in Colombo with a presidential speech at an oceanside urban park, the hoisting of the national flag and a colorful parade in the capital city.
“Our country is embarking on a new chapter in terms of strengthening democracy, good governance, rule of law, human rights and relations with the global community of nations,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera, in a message posted on Twitter on Thursday.
Each year on Independence Day – a national holiday for the tiny island nation’s population of 20.5-million – the main festivities are held at Galle Face Green, a centrally located half-kilometer stretch of oceanside park in Colombo.
In 2016, the event – with the theme of “One Nation, Great Power,” or “Ekama Deyak, Maha Balayak” in the local Sinhalese language – is presided over by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, online news ColomboPage reported.
While the ceremony and procession were held in the morning, cultural shows to promote national reconciliation will start at 7 p.m. local time (0030 Friday GMT) under the concept of the “Pulse of Freedom,” or “Nidahase Hada Gasma.”
Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, achieved independence from the United Kingdom through peaceful means on Feb. 4, 1948, and served as a dominion for 24 years until it finally became the Republic of Sri Lanka 24 years later, on May 22, 1972.
But the country was subsequently wracked by a 25-year civil war from 1983 to 2009 amid an insurgency by militant separatist group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers), in which 80,000 to 100,000 people died, according to the United Nations.
In the final months of the war from March to May 2009, both the LTTE – which is listed as a terrorist organization by 32 countries – and the Sri Lankan military were accused of war crimes, including genocide, against civilians.
The government says Independence Day is a day of symbolic importance for the battle-scarred state’s ongoing efforts towards national reconciliation between the majority Sinhalese population (comprising roughly 74 percent of the total population) and the Tamil ethnic minority (making up about 11 percent).
“Let us, on this solemn occasion of the anniversary of our independence, re-dedicate ourselves to intensify our commitment to built a new, progressive and modern nation where all individuals... have equal rights and opportunities to fulfill their hopes and aspirations,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Samaraweera.