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Sri Lanka's 56th Anniversary of Independence was celebrated at the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington DC on 4th February and 8th February 2004. Celebrations held at the Embassy on 4th February The National Day celebrations at the Embassy of Sri Lanka commenced with the hoisting of the National flag by Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the US, H.E. Devinda R. Subasinghe at the Chancery premises and the singing of the National Anthem. The traditional oil lamp was lit by the Ambassador, religious dignitaries representing the four main religions and visiting dignitaries. Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious ceremonies were then conducted to invoke blessings on the country and its people. The Ven. Katugastota Uparathana Thero, Chief Incumbent of the International Buddhist Center, Wheaton, together with Buddhist clergy representing the Washington Buddhist Vihara Society Inc., conducted the Anusasana. Mr. K. Renganathan, Mr. Naseer Azeez and Dr. Greg Fernandopulle conducted the Hindu, Muslim and Christian religious observances respectively. Thereafter, Ambassador Subasinghe addressed the gathering which also included the families of the Embassy staff. A special feature of this celebration was the presence of a delegation from Sri Lanka attending the 52nd National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC., including Justice Shiranee Thilakawardana, Judge of the Supreme Court, Hon. Susil Premajayantha, Member of Parliament, Mr. Harim Peiris, President's Spokesman, Mrs. Druki Martenstyn, Chairperson, Association for Families of Servicemen Missing in Action, Mr. Zarook Marikkar, Chairman GoTelNetwork, Mrs. Neela Marikkar, Director, Grant Kenyon & Eckhardt Ltd. Community joins Embassy Celebrations The Sri Lanka Embassy organized the main event to commemorate the 56th Anniversary of Independence on 8th February 2004 at the Amphitheatre of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington DC. A large gathering of Sri Lankans including Sri Lankan government officials, representatives of Sri Lanka organizations in Washington DC and well wishers participated in this event. Among those present were Mr. Harim Peiris, President's Spokesman who was attending the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC., Brigadier Upali Edirisinghe of the Sri Lanka Army and Group Captain Mohan De Zoysa of the Sri Lanka Air Force who are presently attending courses at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. The event commenced with the playing of the National Anthem and the lighting of the traditional oil lamp by Ambassador Subasinghe, the religious dignitaries representing the four main faiths and representatives of Sri Lanka organizations in Washington, DC., Mr. Nihal Goonewardena, President, Sri Lanka Association of Washington DC and Mr. Dias Amarawardena, President, Sri Lanka Ranga Kala Kavaya. The religious ceremony to invoke blessings on the country and its people commenced with Ven. Katugastota Uparathana Thero, Chief Incumbent of the International Buddhist Center, Wheaton observing the Anusasana, followed by the recital of a Hindu prayer by Shri Subbarathnam Visveswaran of the Siva Shri Vishnu Temple, Lanham, a recital from the Holy Koran by Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim Chaplain of Georgetown University and a sermon by Dr Greg Fernandopulle. The Independence Day messages of H.E. the President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister and the Hon. Tyronne Fernando, Minister of Foreign Affairs were read by Mr. Saman Udagedara, Minister (Commercial), Mrs. Hemali Rajapakse, Administrative Officer (Consular) and Ms. Dhammika Semasinghe, First Secretary (Economic) of the Sri Lanka Embassy. Addressing the gathering, Ambassador Subasinghe highlighted the progress made in the Sri Lanka-US relationship. He described the four key objectives outlined in 2003 as part of a Three Year Strategic Plan of the Embassy, namely, to deepen and broaden US - Sri Lanka relationships in all its manifestations, to elevate economic cooperation between the two countries and secure greater US market access for Sri Lanka and a higher level of US investment in Sri Lanka, to increase access to the technical expertise and financial resources of the World Bank and the IMF and to upgrade infrastructure and ensure that the Embassy becomes more service oriented. Ambassador Subasinghe highlighted the prime objective of the Embassy as working to convert prospects into the announcement of the US intention to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka. This would broaden and deepen the Sri Lanka-US trade relationship. He also referred to the establishment of a Sri Lanka Working Group at the US Chamber of Commerce in order to foster increased US investment in Sri Lanka. Ambassador Subasinghe described the Embassy's work with Sri Lankan expatriate organizations in fund-raising activities in the US for humanitarian de-mining programs in Sri Lanka, where efforts are underway to clear over 70,000 landmines. This initiative has been successful in raising funds to acquire and train six mine detection dogs to be sent to Sri Lanka in March 2004. Ambassador Subasinghe also stressed the Embassy's commitment to provide high quality Consular services that has been increasingly acknowledged by the community, the revamping of the Embassy website in order to facilitate online access to updated Consular information, as well as the establishment of an ideas line to obtain comments and suggestions on the services provided. The site also provides updates on Embassy activities. He also referred to the Embassy's focus on establishing and strengthening contacts with and mobilizing expatriate community support in other states and the visits undertaken to promote this objective. The address was followed by an open forum for members of the audience to interact directly with the Ambassador through a question and answer session. After the formal part of the ceremony, the celebration continued with a cultural show presented by the Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe of the Ranga Kala Kavaya, traditional Sinhala and Tamil dances and patriotic songs sung by members of the community. Please click here for the picture gallery Embassy of Sri Lanka Washington DC USA 20 February 2004