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Sri Lanka president sworn-in for a second term

By Iqbal Athas, For CNN
  • Mahinda Rajapaksa sworn in for a second term as president
  • More than 10,000 troops and police officers protect capital and its surroundings
  • Rajapaksa's leadership helped defeat Tamil Tiger rebels last year

Colombo, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, pledged to end underworld crimes, illicit drugs and corruption as he was sworn in for a second term Friday.

Dignitaries and thousands of Sri Lankans flocked to the capital, Colombo, to watch the ceremony, which was televised nationally.

It was conducted from a special dais outside the former parliament building, a symbol of Britain ceding independence to then Ceylon, later re-named Sri Lanka.

More than 10,000 troops and police officers protected the capital and its surroundings. The government declared a national holiday for the event and blocked several city roads.

Rajapaksa, whose leadership helped defeat Tamil Tiger rebels last year, vowed to target underworld crimes, illicit drugs and corruption.

He also vowed to ensure all Sri Lankans were provided with electricity by 2012.

Portraits and huge cutouts of Rajapaksa adorned streets and junctions in all parts of Sri Lanka including the capital, Colombo, in what seemed unprecedented in the country's political history.

It became even more prominent when the government issued an official decree that no other portraits or cutouts be displayed in public until week-long nationwide celebrations are over.

Dignitaries who attended the event include Prime Minister Jigme Thinley of Bhutan, President Mohamed Nasheed of Maldives, and Farooq Naik, chairman of the Pakistan senate.

The opposition parties boycotted today's ceremonies.

Mangala Samraweera, foreign Minister for Rajapaksa during his first tenure and now spokesman for the main opposition United National Party, said the events were a waste of public funds.

"Today's events are an arrogant display of hubris by one family," he said. "A colossal waste of public funds on such an extravaganza, with millions of portraits and cutouts in all parts of the country would have put even the late Kim Il Sung of Korea to shame."

But a presidential spokesman defended the event.

"There is a time in countries when people pay tribute to leaders who won freedom and victory for them. This is one such occasion," said spokesman Lucien Rajakarunanayake. "This is a new beginning after two and half decades of terrorism and violence has ended. How can that be an extravaganza?"

The president defended his main rival and former army commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The latter is serving a 30-month jail sentence after a court martial found him guilty of engaging in "disgraceful conduct" over military procurements.

An earlier court martial stripped him of his title, decorations and deprived him of a pension.

Rajapaksa, who is also the minister of finance, is expected to announce more relief measures for Sri Lankans when he presents the first budget in parliament on Tuesday.