By Munza Mushtaq
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AA) - Newly elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday sent out a strong message to the international community declaring that his government will remain neutral and stay out of any conflict among world powers.
Soon after being sworn in to the country's highest office, Rajapaksa in his maiden speech said: “We hope to work with all countries in a friendly manner, and we want to remain neutral in our foreign relations and stay out of any conflict among the world powers.”
His comments come amid concerns that the return of a Rajapaksa rule will result in a pro-China policy, adopted by the incumbent president’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he was the president up until 2015.
Monday's oath taking ceremony was organized at the sacred Buddhist temple of Ruwanwelisaya in Anuradhapura, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the capital Colombo.
Rajapaksa, who won a landslide victory on Saturday, said his foremost priority will be to strengthen national security.
“I will put in place all necessary mechanisms to ensure our country is secure from terrorism, underworld activities, drug menace, extortion, fear and also a safe country for women and children,” he said.
The new president had extended an olive branch to two main minority communities of the country, the Muslims and Tamils.
"I made a special request to the Tamil and Muslim people in this country to be part of this victory journey. But the response I received from them was not up to my expectations,” he said.
Rajapaksa lost the entire north and east provinces, which is dominated by the Tamils and Muslims, but swept the election across most of the Sinhala majority districts.
“But, as your new president, I ask you all as true Sri Lankans to join me in my journey forward,” he said.
He also assured that all communities in the country will have the freedom to practice their religious beliefs. “We will always protect this right,” he said.
Tamils in Sri Lanka make up to 12.6% of the population, while the Muslims constitute 9.7% in the predominantly Buddhist country.
Rajapaksa reiterated his anti-corruption stance in his inaugural speech.
Sri Lanka is ranked 89th in the world and 3rd in South Asia, just behind Bhutan (25th) and India (78th) with a score of 38 in the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by Transparency International.