Colombo: Sri Lanka on Tuesday dropped the rendering of the Tamil-version of the national anthem from its Independence Day ceremony for the first time since 2016, raising concerns over the government's policy for national reconciliation after the end of the brutal civil war against the LTTE.
In his first address to the nation on the occasion of the 72nd National Day here, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa however vowed there would be no discrimination.
"As the president today, I represent the entire Sri Lankan nation irrespective of ethnicity, religion, party affiliation or other differences," he said.
He said he would ensure civil freedoms like free press and the right to expression. At today's ceremony, the national anthem was only sung in the Sinhala language.
This was the first time since 2016 that there was no Tamil national anthem at the Independence Day celebrations in the country.
The then Sri Lankan government in 2015 started including the Tamil national anthem as a means of achieving reconciliation with the Tamil minority community.
Sri Lanka's Constitution provides for the singing of the national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil.
The Tamil version Sri Lanka Thaye' is a direct translation of Namo namo matha' in the Sinhala language.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after his swearing-in ceremony in November thanked the powerful Buddhist clergy for backing his presidential bid and vowed to protect all communities, while giving foremost priority to Buddhism. He also thanked the Sinhala-majority people for electing him.
While the Tamils in 2016 appreciated the symbolic gesture of recognizing them by adding the Tamil version at the Independence Day celebrations, the opposition, then led by the Rajapaksas and a majority Sinhala community member, filed a fundamental rights petition against the move.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa earlier served as the country's president from 2005-2015, a period which was mired by allegations of human rights abuses, especially against the Tamils.
According to UN figures, up to 40,000 civilians were killed by security forces during Mahinda Rajapaksa's regime that brought an end to the brutal civil war with with the defeat of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.
Muslims make up nearly 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's over 21 million people, who are predominantly Sinhalese Buddhists. About 12 per cent of the population are Hindus, mostly from the ethnic Tamil minority. Some seven per cent of the population are Christians.
There are already concerns in the country that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa's remarks may have led to apprehensions among the minority communities, who are already worried about the possibility of the return of an iron-fist rule under the Rajapaksa-duo's regime.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his address said his government was ready to tolerate and accommodate opposing views.
"I wish to fully strengthen the freedom of people to think and write freely," he said. He also vowed to tackle extremism in the country.
"We will not allow extremist organisations that pave way for terrorism to be active in the country," Gotabaya Rajapaksa said recalling that thirty years of conflict in the north and east had delayed the development of the country.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected the country's president on November 16 with overwhelming support from the Sinhala majority community. During the elections, the minority Tamil and Muslim communities had largely supported his main rival.