Diasporic extremists’ protests in London rebuffed:

Rasika SOMARATHNA

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recent visit to the United Kingdom was hailed as a foreign policy success for Sri Lanka by several officials who accompanied him on the tour.

Six out of the seven main events the President attended in UK were resounding successes. These helped to portray the country’s recent gains and establish Sri Lanka as a nation on the forward march towards a bright and prosperous future, they said.

These observations were made by the Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunge, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to UK Dr Chris Nonis, External Affairs Ministry Monitoring MP Sajin Vasz Gunewardene and Foreign Secretary Karunatilake Amunugama during an interaction with the media yesterday. Mr. Weeratunge speaking on the cancellation of President Rajapaksa’s scheduled speech at the Commonwealth Economic Forum at Mansion House, said British Prime Minister David Cameron had expressed his regret to the President over the disruption of his scheduled speech.

He said this was only one small event among a series of programmes and added it had not been organised by the British state, but by a business body.

The Secretary said when the British Premier had made his comments on the disruptions, the President had replied: “I have been in politics for 42 years. This is no problem at all. I have faced such situations on many occasions”

Dr Nonis speaking on the President’s visit, described it as one which moved UK – Sri Lanka relations to a new plateau.

He said six out of seven events the President attended, were highly successful.

Speaking on security arrangements, Dr Nonis said security aspects of each event were discussed with British authorities and arrangements made to provide tight security.

Speaking on the disruption caused by some LTTE supporters, he said the majority of the diaspora anywhere was very sensible and rational and it was only a minority who were violent and aggressive. Dr Nonis emphasised that Sri Lanka should engage constructively with these countries and added time will heal any wounds that occur in relations.

He pointed out to the seven events, starting from the reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by the Queen, and described that it had gone off well despite some LTTE supporters trying to engage in a protest. He said the event was a triumph for Sri Lanka.

Dr Nonis said the President had also attended the St Pauls Cathedral Thanksgiving Mass and a reception at Guild Hall where the British Prime Minister was also in attendance.

According to Dr Nonis, the President had also participated in a reception hosted by him, where 20 UK Members of Parliament had attended.

Dr Nonis described the interaction between the President and UK Parliamentarians as fruitful.

“This could be considered a substantial advance in UK- Sri Lanka relations,” he said. According to Dr Nonis, the President had later met Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma where they discussed matters pertaining to the next Commonwealth Heads of States Summit to be held in Sri Lanka.

Sharma had conveyed to the President that Sri Lanka has the option of selecting the theme for the next Commonwealth Summit and the President’s preferred theme was ‘Rural Empowerment’, Dr Nonis said.

The President had also attended an event at Marlborough House where he had engaged with the Queen, and Prince Charles he added. Dr Nonis also described the discussion between the President and British Premier Cameron as extremely fruitful and said this could be considered as a landmark in UK – Sri Lanka relations.

He said the President during his successful visit to UK had attended six events in three days and met the Queen on three occasions and the British Premier and 20 UK Parliamentarians.