Colombo, Nov 19: Sri Lanka's charismatic President Mahinda Rajapaksa was today sworn in for an unprecedented second six-year term amid a boycott by opposition parties, as he vowed to turn the war-torn country into an economic "wonder" of Asia.
Rajapaksa, who turned 65 yesterday, was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice Ashoka D Silva during a colourful open air ceremony held at the sea front at the Presidential Secretariat, followed by a tri-service military parade by thousands of troops and a 21-gun salute.
Security was tight for the ceremony, which was telecast live, as the Sri Lankan capital wore a festive look for the occasion for which a public holiday had been declared.
The event, graced by foreign dignitaries like Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed and Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley, was boycotted by the opposition United National Party and the Marxist-Leftist JVP, both backers of Sarath Fonseka, jailed former army chief who was defeated in the January presidential polls by Rajapaksa.
"We take this decision (of boycotting the event) to mark our protest to the exorbitantly expensive ceremony," deputy leader of the UNP, Karu Jayasuriya, said.
Rajapaksa, who led the country to victory over the 30-year-old LTTE insurgency, was re-elected President by an overwhelming majority in the January 26 snap election. He had called the election two years early to cash in on his soaring ratings in the wake of last year's military victory over the Tamil Tigers.
In his second term, a powerful Rajapaksa says, he wants to turn this island nation into a "wonder of Asia" and has announced a series of infrastructure projects, including a USD 1.5-billion port built by the Chinese in his hometown of Hambantota which he inaugurated yesterday.
"When I came to power I promised an honourable peace and a new Sri Lanka and I will keep my promise," Rajapakse said.
While pursuing development, he has shrugged off pressures by the West to link investments to human rights and turned to countries like Iran, Libya and China for help.
He also rejected allegations that the Sri Lankan army may have been responsible for substantial civilian deaths during its final offensive against the LTTE and dismissed calls for a international investigations into possible war crimes.
Emphasising on the Sri Lankan policy of non-alignment, Rajapaksa said: "We do not have enemy states or such groups or blocs."
"During the last era, we worked with many nations in agreement and friendship for national security. We now step into the development era. We extend our hand of friendship to those who assist us in this endeavour. There will be no development in the absence of peace, nor peace in the absence of development.
"Therefore, we will strengthen already existing relations between nations and are ready to establish new relations for national security and development," the President said.
He pledged that by 2012 every family in the country will receive the electricity. "The land that was freed from terrorism will by 2012 be a land that is freed of darkness."
He said that the future generation will be trilingual as he hoped to raise the computer literacy to 75 per cent. "The name of Sri Lankan youth must top the list of those employed in the fields of science and technology. Our generation can achieve this victory by making our country the knowledge hub we intend it to be."
In September, Rajapaksa government had passed an amendment to the Constitution eliminating term limits for the presidency.
The Supreme Court subsequently clarified the date on which Rajapaksa should be administered oath for his second term as there was confusion over oath-taking by an incumbent president in the event of being re-elected.
The government has declared week-long celebrations to mark his assumption of office for the second term. PTI