Under pressure Sri Lanka President says no to Modi
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena has ruled out any bilateral talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his overnight visit in an apparent bid to deflect criticism from his nemesis Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sirisena’s office released a speech he had made Wednesday rejecting accusations that Modi’s visit was aimed at securing concessions for a business deals for Indian companies in the island.
Stung by the criticism made from Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Galle Face May-Day platform, Sirisena attempted to play down the high profile Modi visit saying it wqs only aimed at spiritual and Buddhist matters and nothing political nor related to trade and investments.
"The Indian Prime Minister will engage only in religious activities connected with (the Buddhist festival of) Vesak," the President said. "There will be no official talks. Not even unofficial talks on development projects or other projects."
Modi was due in Colombo later Thursday and is scheduled to open an international Buddhist conference in Colombo Friday before travelling to the island’s tea growing central Nuwara Eliya district.
He is due to formally open an Indian-gifted 1.2 billion rupee Dikoya hospital and later visit the Temple of the Tooth, the most sacred Buddhist shrine in the island, before returning home on Friday evening.
Former president Rajapakse and his main political allies have accused Sirisena of trying to lease large swathes of land in the strategic port district of Trincomalee to Indian interests.
Earlier this month, Rajapakse’s opposition alliance also called on their supporters to put up black flags to protest Modi’s visit, but on Thursday there were no signs of any response to the boycott campaign.
Sirisena said it was important for his administration to maintain good relations with India. Ties between the two countries had strained during the tenure of Rajapakse who had relied heavily on China for economic and diplomatic support.
Modi’s latest visit to Sri Lanka is the second in just over two years and is seen as part of a charm offensive to reassert New Delhi’s interest in its tiny southern neighbour amid growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region. (COLOMBO, May 11, 2017)