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The 68th Independence Day was celebrated on February 4, at Galle Face. The celebrations were held under the auspices of President Maithripala Sirisena.

The celebrations were held under the theme of  One country – a colossal force. 

Several dignitaries including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, former first lady Hema Premadasa, Ministers, Parliamentarians, and Ambassadors were in attendance to witness the ceremony.

President Maithripala Sirisena in his address to the nation said he would protect the country’s independence, territorial integrity and the people’s respect.

He further stated that steps taken by the government to eliminate bribery and corruption during the past year had yielded significant success.

Following is the full text of the speech by the President:

Today we all join together to celebrate the 68th anniversary of Independence Day with pomp and glory. Since we got independence from the British Colonial rulers, we have been marking this momentous day of Independence every year and this is the 68th occasion.

When we consider the day like this in 1948 and today, in 2016, in our country as well as the in other countries in the world, there had been vast transformations in economic, political, social and cultural fields.

If we analyze or interpret the independence we gained, I believe that there is a vast difference in what our people expected in 1948 and what the people expect today, 68 years later.

I describe a child born in 1948 as a Child of Culture. Today, a child born in 2016 in the beginning of the 21st Century, we see as a Child of Technology. I believe that we should, collectively make efforts to build the nation by joining the Child of Culture born in the post 1948 era or early 1950s and today’s Child of Technology.

 When we talk of the great freedom fighters who struggle valiantly to win freedom from the Colonial rule, we can see very clearly that among the national heroes, there were Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim leaders who fought together, shoulder to shoulder in unity and brotherhood to win independence for the Motherland.

Going back, from 1505, when the foreign forces invaded our country, to 1948, during that period of over 400 years, when we were under the foreign domination, we lost many things. Our distinct value of togetherness, was lost. Culture was devastated. The Economy was ruined. The prosperous economy that existed during the reigns of our kings with major tanks and irrigation systems and with abountiful harvest and many other things were gradually destroyed during the 400 years of imperialist rule. 

That destruction took place in that period of over 400 years. Since, 1505, our heroic leaders made many sacrifices with their blood, sweat and tears and won independence in 1948. Although we became free of the imperial rule, the foreign forces left our nation ,leaving behind many problems they created during their rule.

At this moment, when we have spent 68 years for the task of building of our country after the victory we achieved as a result of the struggle carried out by the national heroes of the decades of 1930s, and 1940s, in unity, irrespective of their religion, race or caste, we have to ask the question from our own conscience whether we have solved the problems left for us by those who invaded our country.

Almost every government which came into the power has given priority to develop physical resources and building of the economy. But if we had fulfilled the task to build unity, reconciliation, brotherhood and friendship we wouldn’t have faced the barbaric terrorism lasted for 26 years after its commencement at the beginning of the decade of 1980s.

As it is a foremost duty to develop the economy and the physical resources of a country, I strongly believe that, at the same time, it is essential for the leaders to understand the natures of the cultures, religions and languages of the country. 

I notice a problem faced by the leaders not only in our country, but also of the countries with the highest development in the entire world. It is that the new generation and the public are more advanced than the leaders in their thoughts and expectations, attitudes, determinations and objectives. That should be understood by us as the main difference between the child of 1930s, 40s and 50s decades and the technologically advanced child who is born today in 2016 in the 21st century.

Therefore, the people and the new generation are subjected to transformations in every field when they proceed with new ideas, thoughts and expectations. During this process of radical changes, revolutionary ideas, new thoughts and expectations are arisen in every field. There are many things for us to understand in this change. It is essential to carry out our governance collectively, with unity of everybody in order to withstand these transformations.

Considering all these, I trust that we should look at the meaning of the freedom in a new angle and a new meaning. The most complicated word to define in this world is ‘freedom’. It has a wide range of meanings with expanded definitions. The meaning of the word, ‘freedom’ has been expanded with the growth of new high technology. When we look at the new world and new ideas through our value systems and heritages of the civilization the word freedom has a comprehensive meaning. It is considered by the leaders and everybody as a challenging task.

We are today living in an era, in which democracy has been strengthened. There are a few reasons we have to understand clearly in this regard. We are not living in an era of the reigns of the kings.

I must specially mention here that as a government and as citizens, we fulfill our duties and responsibilities towards protecting freedom and democracy of this country, in a similar manner the armed forces of this country is committed to safeguarding the democracy in accordance with our constitution. 

The whole nation must pay their tribute to patriotic war heroes who sacrificed their limbs as well as their lives to defeat brutal LTTE terrorism, which dragged over for 26 years and to strengthen the independence, peace and democracy of this country. I would like to strongly emphasize that we should recall with honour the courage, self-confidence and determination of the Tri forces, Police, Civil Security Department, public service, political leadership as well as the general public to achieve peace & freedom to our country defeating that brutal terrorism. 

In the present context, we have given priority to issues such as social, economic and political reforms in the country. As I have mentioned many times in the past, we had to face the resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council as a result of the failure to take appropriate steps that we should have taken after May 2009, in the post-conflict era of the country. 

I believe that if we had taken the steps that should have been taken after May 2009, we would not have faced the resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2015. The people of this country have given a mandate to the Government and to me on January 08, 2015 to resolve these issues and to build the national reconciliation among Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay people of the country. 

I must firmly state that after 68 years, we have to resolve major issues that Colonial rulers left us in 1948 and to fulfill the pledges given in the election manifesto, which was presented for the Presidential Election in January, 2015. 

I hope all of us, without any disagreement, believe that the mandate given to us by the people of this country 08 January, 2015, is a clear indication that they had given us the responsibility to fulfill the tasks which we had accomplished after May 2009.

Most countries that received independence after us have now developed as strong nations as they succeeded in ushering in political and social reforms by strengthening of the comprehensive reconciliation processes through the peace, reconciliation and religious harmony within the communities in their countries.

Therefore, this opportunity we have today should be made use of for that important task. There are incorrect interpretations given about the resolution presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council. I clearly state that we are facing these resolutions in order to protect the pride and dignity of our country, our people and our security forces, and also to make our tri forces to be internationally renowned armed force.

We should face these resolutions with patience, discipline and decorum so that our country could be respectfully recognized by all international organizations including the UNO and all states in the world.

Some political rivals with hopes for capturing power are giving false interpretations to mislead the people about the government’s process of implementing these resolutions. I clearly state it will be the freedom, democracy and reconciliation which will be brought by implementing these resolutions.

These political rivals and various extremists are carrying out disinformation campaigns to implant wrong ideas to create unrest in the minds of the members of the security forces.

On this day, as we celebrate the 68th anniversary of the independence, I pledge and assure you as the first public servant, Commander-in-Chief of the Security Forces and President, that we fulfill all these responsibilities while safeguarding the independence and the territorial integrity, strengthening of the reconciliation process in the country as well as protecting the dignity of the government, security forces and the people.

On this day we should determine that everybody should perform to mark our country in the world map as a proud country and a proud nation. I earnestly believe the entire population will work for that with determination. 

The passing of the 19th amendment to the constitution to safeguard the democracy and the freedom of the people in this country is a major victory achieved by the new government during last year and it is a great victory gained by the people in this era. Through the establishment of Independent Commissions, Election Commission, which was a major demand of the people in this country for more than 40 years we have strengthened the democratic institutions. By establishing commissions related to elections, public service, police, human rights, and audits through the 19th amendment to the Constitution the rights of the people in this country were safeguarded. 

The steps taken by the government to eliminate bribery, fraud & corruptions and waste from the country during the last year have resulted in significant successes. All of you agree that we have strengthened the Parliament by adopting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. In the future, the Independent Commissions will work to eradicate the political influence in the public service.

Specially, we have ensured a broad media freedom in our country, in accordance with our policies on media freedom. The freedom we are given and the media enjoy today has now come to a point, where I have to emphasize the importance of using that freedom with wisdom, responsibility and discipline. 

I will caution that if the media freedom is not properly used, any future government could curtail media freedom once again. Hence, it is the responsibility of all the journalists and the media institutions to protect that freedom we have given.

In order to build an economically strong country, we strongly implement our policies of exporting of local products to the international market while developing the local industries and local food production and we will infuse our new generation with the modern high technology to conquer this modern competitive world, to achieve high levels of education development, to strengthen the free education sector, health sector of the country and to eliminate malnutrition from the country. 

How far we have utilized our marine resources for the development of our country during the past 68 years is a question still we have to find an answer. When comparing with the developed countries in the world we have not utilized even one percent of our marine resources for the development of our country. 

In this highly technological world, as an island nation, we have a great opportunity to develop our economy and the knowledge of technology by utilizing the marine resources.

On a fortunate day like this, we should recall our great leaders who contributed to gain independence to our country in 1948 and paying tribute our War Heroes, who sacrificed their lives to end the 26 years long, brutal terrorism. I request all of you to set aside narrow political gains and to unite for the future of our country to fulfill our duties towards the nation. 

Specially, I would like to mention to political rivals to commit themselves to fulfill their responsibilities in this regard, using their knowledge and wisdom while enjoying the freedom, democracy and all other rights ensured by us. 

I respectfully request everybody to work collectively, binding together with harmony, friendship and brotherhood to prepare our tomorrow to face the forthcoming decades to make our noble country as a great nation in the world.

May the Triple Gem bless you!