A day after he asked the LTTE to lay down arms and come for talks to solve the festering Tamil problem, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday appealed to the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to "join" him and help liberate the "innocent" Tamil people of the North from LTTE's terrorism.
"It is only by joining us that the innocent Tamil people of the North can be liberated from terrorist intimidation and violence, and the North could be emancipated," Rajapaksa told the TNA in his address to the nation on the occasion of the 59th anniversary of Sri Lanka's independence.
Rajapaksa reminded the TNA's 22 MPs that they were not free men because they were being intimidated by the LTTE and that it was time they came over to his side.
"If you are anguished in fear and anxiety, and lack in human freedom, however much democratic the political ideology you claim to follow, I must state in all honesty that none of you are free men," he said.
To restore democracy in North-East
The President said that on Saturday, he had visited Vaharai and Sampur in Eastern Sri Lanka, and had seen how the Armed Forces had liberated the innocent Tamil people there from the clutches of the LTTE without causing a "single civilian casualty" and how the civilian administration was being restored.
"The people there are now free and relaxed," he said.
He hoped that the next independence day would be celebrated by the children of the North and the South together.
Rajapaksa said that the majority Sinhala community was in favour of rendering justice to the innocent Tamil people and indicated that he himself favoured a federal constitution as a means to solve the Tamil problem.
He suggested that the majority Sinhalas endorse the views of two moderate Tamil leaders, V Anandasangaree and Douglas Devananda, who had been advocating a federal constitution with devolution of power to provinces to replace the present unitary constitution.
"I wish to re-emphasise that the most reliable weapon against terrorism is to do justice by the innocent Tamil people. I know that the Sinhala people in the South are ready for this."
"We are not ready to give into the blood thirsty demands of the LTTE. However, at the minimum, we should be reasonable enough to agree with Mr Anandasangaree and the Hon Douglas Devananda," the President said.
Plea to isolate JVP
Without naming the radical Marxist and troublesome Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Rajapasa said that the working class should not be misled by "terrorists" and should not sustain them.
"I believe that this is the most suitable platform to make a particular appeal to the working people of this country not to supply oxygen, consciously or not, to terrorism that is gasping for breath," he said.
The JVP had led an insurrection in 1971 and 1988, prior to getting into parliament in the 1990s. It is currently at odds with Rajapaksa.
Resolve to withstand foreign pressures
The President said that his primary task was to uphold the "dignity" of Sri Lanka "uncompromisingly" whether the forces ranged against it were local or foreign.
"We wish to declare loud and clear on this occasion that national dignity means the non-betrayal of the democratic rights of the people of a country to whatever vicious forces - either local or foreign - whatever the circumstances," he said.
Rajapaksa had successfully warded off pressures from the local and foreign peace lobby, comprising Western governments, foreign donors and NGOs, both local and international.
"On this proud day of our independence, I stand before you as the Head of State with a great feeling of contentment. I derive this contentment through the belief that I have given you leadership for over a period of one year, to safeguard our national dignity, at a time it had reached the lowest ebb," the President said.
Press is free but should act responsibly
"We respect our critics more than those who eulogise us. A fact that I have realised well during the three decades of my political career is that reasonableness is the foundation of public protest," Rajapaksa said.
But he added that the press should act with responsibility and not encourage forces of destabilisation and terrorism.
The President's remarks are significant in the context of complaints (voiced by Reporters without Frontiers among other organisations) that the Sri Lankan press, especially the Tamil press, is being intimidated into silence by an all-powerful government.