x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Mahinda Rajapaksa a national hero in Sri Lanka, despite Commonwealth criticism

Mahinda Rajapaksa may be a pariah for some of his Commonwealth peers, but for many of his fellow Sri Lankans he is a national hero who ended four decades of bloodshed.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa rubs his eye during a media briefing on the final day of the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo. Eranga Jayawardena / AP
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa rubs his eye during a media briefing on the final day of the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo. Eranga Jayawardena / AP

COLOMBO // Mahinda Rajapaksa may be a pariah for some of his Commonwealth peers, but for many of his fellow Sri Lankans their president is a national hero who ended four decades of bloodshed.

For all the international criticism, Mr Rajapaksa’s popularity has stood firm at home among a population who endured 37 years of war before government troops crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels once and for all.

“People were getting killed for 30 years, at least after 2009 we have stopped it,” Mr Rajapaksa said in a typically unapologetic performance before the press in Colombo on Thursday.

“There is no killing in Sri Lanka today.”

The former Sri Lankan diplomat Dayan Jayatilleka said Mr Rajapaksa still has no shortage of credit in the bank with the majority Sinhalese community after overseeing victory in what many had thought was an “unwinnable war”.

Mr Jayatilleka likened Mr Rajapaksa’s image to that of Vladimir Putin, who restored Russian pride and prestige by ending the war in Chechnya – even if it came at a heavy human cost.

Sri Lankans in Colombo were quick to voice their support for Mr Rajapaksa even if they are critical of his government.

“People are still grateful to him for ending the war,” the company executive Nilantha Perera said. “He is seen as the man who defeated terrorism. He did the impossible.”

* Agence France-Presse