[image title="Photo 1" size="full" id="6547" align="center" linkto="viewer" ] Ayubowan, Wanakkam, Assalamualaikum, Good evening, Sri Lanka celebrates 67 years of Independence at a momentous time in her history. Just less than a month ago, at the Presidential election, the people of Sri Lanka upheld their right as citizens, by reaffirming their faith in democratic principles and democratic governance. Over 80% of registered voters exercised their franchise peacefully and decisively. This was followed by a smooth transition of leadership fulfilling the aspirations of the people. I extend a warm welcome to all of you who have joined me, my wife, and my staff today, to celebrate this significant anniversary of our nation’s Independence. I am particularly pleased to welcome our Chief Guest at this occasion, Deputy Secretary of State Hon. Antony Blinken, who joins us representing the Government of the United States of America. Your presence Sir, is a manifestation of the goodwill and friendship of the people and the Government of the United States towards the Government and the people of Sri Lanka. Your participation at this occasion at a unique and decisive moment in our country is especially significant. I am equally honoured by the gracious presence of Hon. Muriel Bowser, the Mayor of Washington DC. Madam, you are the first citizen of this important city of the world where Sri Lanka has maintained an Embassy since Independence in 1948. I thank both Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Mayor Bowser for joining us today. Their presence is a singular honour to our people and to our leaders as well as the Sri Lankan-Americans living in this country. Ladies and Gentlemen, President Maithripala Sirisena, in his Message on the Independence Day stated that, “…this year’s Independence celebration is of special significance as it sees the launch of a new era of Good Governance in the country.” The President further said that “the strengthening and progress of peace in our country requires social, political and economic policies that give the highest priority to the needs of the people. This includes social welfare, economic progress, and a determined move towards good governance, which is in keeping with the traditions of tolerance and understanding of our country. This is also the time to remember the spirit of unity that has prevailed in our land through the centuries.” Hailing the outcome of the recent election as a remarkable victory of the people of our country, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recalls in his Message that “Groups that represent diverse communities, following different religions, political parties, civil organizations and various groups came together onto one platform, shedding their difference to achieve a common objective for the benefit of the nation.” Stating that Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in Asia, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, in his statement, acclaims that, in the face of many challenges, Sri Lanka has once again proved its commitment to freedom and democracy through yet another peaceful transition of power. He adds that the challenge now is to create a Sri Lankan identity based on the cultural diversity of its people. If Sri Lanka is to harness its true economic potential, it must meet the aspirations of all its different communities to live in ethnic harmony, religious tolerance and in a free and democratic society. Sri Lanka, despite its modest means and even smaller size, has always played an important role on the world stage. The time has now come to restore the respect and dignity Sri Lanka once commanded. Sri Lanka must harness this goodwill for the betterment of her people. And Minister Samaraweera calls on all Sri Lankans, both within the country and abroad, to bury their differences and create a new Sri Lanka which will meet the hopes and aspirations of the people. Ladies and Gentlemen, The celebrations held yesterday in Sri Lanka to commemorate our nation’s Independence were of particular significance. The Government, following its commitment to unity in diversity, peace and reconciliation, chose the occasion of the Nation’s Independence Day to make a collective pledge to peace. Considering the importance of this pledge, I take this opportunity to read it to you, especially due to its relevance to the path of reconciliation in Sri Lanka. “Today, our beloved nation faces a moment of unprecedented opportunity. Terrorism and violence have ended. The time and space required for healing and building sustainable peace and security for all is upon us. It is now for us to seize this opportunity to ensure that the fruits of democracy and citizenship can be equitably enjoyed by all. As we commemorate the 67th Independence Day of our nation today, we pay our respects to all the citizens of this country, of all ethnicities and religions, who lost their lives due to the tragic conflict that afflicted this land for over three decades and to all the victims of violence since Independence. On this solemn occasion, we pledge to adopt consensual approaches through democratic means, to advance national interest, national reconciliation, justice and equality for all citizens. We shall do this in a spirit of tolerance, accommodation and compromise and uphold the unity and territorial integrity of the nation for the progress and development of our pluralistic society. We pledge to protect freedom and democracy, promote amity and cooperation between the diverse communities in this country, and at all times strive to walk the path of peace. We pledge our collective commitment to ensure that never again will we allow for this land to be traumatised by the shedding of blood of her citizens.” Distinguished honoured guests, Ladies and gentlemen, Friends, Sri Lanka has enjoyed long years of friendship with the United States. Our first contact with this great country probably took place when an American merchant ship called at the Galle harbour around the same time that the new American Republic adopted its Constitution. American missionaries from Massachusetts arriving in 1810 spearheaded schooling in the North of Sri Lanka, and also provided education opportunities for women which was a radical concept at the time. A Colonel in the American civil war from New Jersey, Henry Olcott, arriving in 1880, gave birth to an era of Buddhist renaissance in Sri Lanka. In fact, Sri Lankan Americans have recently erected a statue of Colonel Olcott in New Jersey in appreciation. Since Sri Lanka’s Independence, our two democracies forged a stronger bond which currently encompasses all facets of modern life, including substantial development assistance over the years that have contributed towards Sri Lanka’s success today as a middle income nation with a high physical quality of life. Our two countries share democratic practices, as well as multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural ethics and values which the people of Sri Lanka have just re-affirmed. As an island nation, Sri Lanka values its maritime connection with the United States. We celebrate this occasion just days after Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal’s visit to Sri Lanka. The Assistant Secretary stressed during her visit, that Sri Lanka can count on the United States to be a partner and a friend in the way forward. We are encouraged by these reassuring words. As we celebrate this occasion, the Government and people of Sri Lanka look forward to strengthen bonds of friendship and cooperation with the Government and people of the United States on the basis of our shared values, our commitment for democracy, good governance and for international peace and security. Let us on this day, - Wish the people of Sri Lanka, a peaceful, contented and prosperous future, and - While thanking the leaders and the people of the United States for the manifest goodwill towards Sri Lanka, commit ourselves to usher in an era of greater friendship and cooperation between our two nations. Thank you. [image title="Photo 2" size="medium" id="6548" align="center" linkto="viewer" ] [image title="Photo 3" size="medium" id="6549" align="center" linkto="viewer" ]

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