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Rajapaksa concedes defeat, UNF claims victory


Colombo: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was on Tuesday set to take oath again after leading his UNF to a victory in parliamentary elections, defeating the opposition led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa who conceded defeat.

“Let us together build a civilized society, build a consensual government and create a new country with equal opportunities for everybody,” Wickremesinghe said as results from Monday’s keenly fought battle for 225 parliament seats showed the  inching towards a win.

Ranil Wickremesinghe

Election officials said Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP), the main constituent of the UNF, had got 93 seats to the 83 of United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of Rajapaksa.

UNP leaders expressed confidence that it would reach the figure of 113 MPs needed to form the next government with the help of smaller parties.

Minister Karu Jayasuriya, who led the election campaign for his party, said the UNF was confident of winning 105-107 seats and secure the help of friendly parties to take office, the media reported.

“We intend to keep our promises and develop the country,” UNP leader John Amaratunga said after netting the Gampaha seat. He said Wickremesinghe would take oath as prime minister later on Tuesday.

It is the first time in 14 years the UNP wrested Gampaha, indicating a major mood swing in the country where Rajapaksa reigned supreme for over a decade until his dramatic loss in presidential election in January.

Referring to that election when Maithripala Sririsena defeated Rajapaksa after quitting his cabinet and revolting against him, Wickremesinghe said he planned to “continue the January 8 revolution”.

A sombre Rajapaksa conceded defeat in Monday’s elections.

“My dream of becoming the prime minister has faded away,” Rajapaksa told AFP. “I am conceding we have lost a good fight.”

The former president also told his aides that he expected Wickremesinghe to lure some of his MPs to cobble a majority in parliament.

Election officials said the UNP had bagged 11 of the 22 districts from where results were available. The UPFA had won eight while the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main Tamil party, finished on top in three districts in parts of the Tamil-majority northeastern province.

Mahinda Rajapaksa

The UPFA’s victories came from Sinhalese-majority areas including Hambantota, the bastion of the Rajapaksa family. But the UNF made inroads in districts where Rajapaksa had the upper hand in the January contest.

The main battle was between the UNF led by Wickremesinghe and the UPFA, which had Rajapaksa as its main candidate although its leadership is with President Sirisena.

Both Jaffna and Vanni districts, which saw thousands of deaths in the end stages of armed conflict that ended in 2009, voted for the TNA, which is expected to ally with Wickremesinghe, media reports said.

Wickremesinghe urged Sri Lankans not to divide themselves as winners and losers and work together as one family for the betterment of Sri Lanka and to introduce a new political culture to the country.

He said in a statement that people had given a mandate for good governance and consensus-based politics.

President Sirisena showed he intended to take control of the UPFA when he sacked, after the polling ended on Monday, several key leaders known to be close to Rajapaksa and replaced them with his loyalists.


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Our ties with India can reach newer heights: Wickremesinghe

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New Delhi: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday said the relationship between India and Sri Lanka could reach newer heights.

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At a media briefing here, Wickremesinghe said he held discussions with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi over a host of issues, such as their program of creating one million jobs over the next five years.

He said the issue of fishermen from India and Sri Lanka who often cross into each others’ territory was discussed and it will be concluded in a time-bound manner.

He said tourism as an area of operation was also discussed. The Sri Lankan prime minister, who is on a three-day India visit, said that by the mid of next year they will be able to draw conclusions to the issues discussed.

Our relationship “can go to newer heights”, he said.


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Hope for progress in ties with Sri Lanka: Modi


New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday hoped for progress on key bilateral initiatives with Sri Lanka. After talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe Modi said that “projects will gather speed now”.

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Modi said that peace and stability in the region is “key to our success. When there is stability we prosper”.

“We had a long discussion on different areas concerning our two countries,” the prime minister said in a media statement after the talks.

“This is a relationship that touches the hearts of ordinary Indians and Sri Lankans,” he added.

“We also expressed hope that progress on key bilateral initiatives and projects will gather speed now.”


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Sri Lanka frees 16 Indian fishermen as goodwill gesture


By NewsGram Staff Writer

Colombo/New Delhi: As a goodwill gesture ahead of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India, Sri Lanka has decided to set free 16 Indian fishermen.

The fishermen were arrested after they allegedly intruded into Sri Lankan waters. Earlier, the fisherman’s associations of Tamil Nadu had urged the Sri Lankan government to release the 16 fishermen.

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

It was decided to release the fishermen in order to ensure that the strong friendship between India and Sri Lanka is maintained, the Colombo Gazette reported on Sunday citing the statement received from the Sri Lanka Prime Minister’s Office.

Wickremesinghe’s office said the government also took note of the request made by the Indian fisherman’s associations.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India beginning Monday will be his first official overseas visit since being appointed as prime minister last month. The Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s office said that Wickremesinghe considers it important to visit India first.

The Sri Lankan government has also said that the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Sri Lanka and India will not be discussed during Wickremesinghe’s visit to India.

Wickremesinghe is to discuss domestic issues as well as regional security with the Indian leaders, the daily said, quoting the Prime Minister’s Office.

Wickremesinghe is to meet President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, among others, during his three-day visit.

Meanwhile, Minister of International Trade and Investment Malik Samarawickreme denied reports that the CEPA agreement will be discussed and signed during the visit.

The signing of the CEPA agreement has remained stalled over the years as both sides had failed to reach a consensus on several issues.

Samarawickreme said that before signing such an agreement there is need to look at Sri Lanka’s requirements today.

The minister said be it an agreement with India or any other country, the new Sri Lankan government will ensure it meets the interests of the Sri Lankan people, the Colombo Gazette reported.

(With inputs from IANS)