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Sri Lanka president thanks allies

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Colombo's seaside promenade was transformed into a massive parade ground

The Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has praised Asian, African and Arab countries for their support in defeating Tamil Tiger rebels.

He said that Sri Lanka had been "pressurised" by other governments which he did not name.

The president was speaking at a vast military parade to celebrate the victory which was achieved last month.

In a TV address, he told soldiers who fought the rebels that they now needed to win over the hearts of Tamil people.

The military display saw Colombo's seaside promenade transformed into a massive parade ground, with streets for kilometres around closed off as the armed forces showed off the weapons and military vehicles, of land, sea and air that won them the war.

Top armed forces officers gave the salute to the president as they travelled past in open-topped military vehicles.

Correspondents say that the president took a thinly disguised swipe at governments in the West who had expressed concern about the high level of civilian casualties in the war.

They say that he pointedly only thanked countries in Asia, Africa and the Arab world for their support in the war effort.

Sri Lanka has been witheringly critical of Western countries including the US, the UK and France which urged it to observe a ceasefire during what turned out to be the final days of the war.

'Valued assistance'

"It is necessary to begin a new era in our international relations to safeguard my motherland," the president said in a nationally televised speech just before the military parade.

Mahinda Rajapaksa
It is now the time to win over the hearts of the Tamil people. The Tamil-speaking people should be protected
Mahinda Rajapaksa

"Having won our freedom in our motherland, we must now establish our freedom and sovereignty internationally.

"Terrorists were able to get the world to bring pressure on us, a free and sovereign state," he said.

"That was possible because the terrorists had the capability to bring pressure on those governments."

Referring to the fact that only certain countries backed Sri Lanka in its campaign to defeat the rebels, the president said that "those honest friends have carried out the greatest responsibility towards our freedom and sovereignty".

"We value very much the assistance we received from all those countries at this moment."

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says that the president's rhetoric was triumphant: he said his country should be declared the "pride of Asia" for destroying "the world's most savage terrorist leader" in the space of less than three years.

Mr Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka would work out its own political solution which, he said, would not contain "an iota of space for racism and separatism".

On Tuesday the UN secretary general dismissed allegations that the UN covered up a high civilian death toll during the last phase of the Sri Lanka conflict.

French and British newspapers, citing confidential UN reports, last week said more than 20,000 civilians were killed.



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