Three ships for the first time entered the newly Chinese-built port in southern Sri Lanka on Thursday, marking President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 65th birthday on the eve of his swearing-in ceremony for the second Presidential term.
Rajapaksa fired a shot in the air as the ships entered the waters of the `Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa port’ as his family members and a Chinese delegation looked on.
This was not the first time that Rajapaksa had ensured that his name was made synonymous with developments in post-war Sri Lanka. Few months ago, he had ordered the Central Bank to issue thousand rupee notes with his picture on them. The government’s policies were also broadly grouped together under the title ``Mahinda Chinthana.’’
Thursday’s inauguration ceremony was part of celebrations being held to mark the beginning of his second term from Friday. One of the ships that entered the port was carrying a large group of Buddhist monks chanting prayers.
The port located in Hambantota, some 260 km south of Colombo, is Rajapaksa’s home district. China is building it for Sri Lanka at a cost of $ 1.4 billion; the first phase is now complete.
The inauguration took place amid stringent criticism from the opposition, which said that the port would turn out to be a ``white elephant.’’
According to reports, United National Party (UNP) leader, Mangala Samaraweera, said the port had no potential to become an international one and would bleed money.
The Adaderana website said: ``Samaraweera went on to explain that every international harbour has to have an internationally valid insurance certificate. He questioned the government whether the Hambantota harbour had such a certificate.’’ The opposition is also boycotting Friday's swearing-in ceremony.
In his speech, Rajapaksa praised the Chinese. ``The mutual understanding and the friendship between the Chinese engineers and technicians and our people also contributed to this,’’ the Daily Mirror online quoted him as saying.
Strategic analysts in the region have said that the Hambantota port was part of China’s strategy to surround India with ports; China is also building ports in Pakistan and Myanmar.