Rajapaksa presents budget, asks LTTE to surrender arms (Lead)November 6th, 2008 - 7:48 pm ICT by IANS
Colombo, Nov 6 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa Thursday unveiled next year’s budget that proposes to hike defence spending by nearly seven percent and asked the Tamil Tigers to surrender their weapons to avoid making the military do so.The pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which has 22 members in the 225-seat member parliament, boycotted the budget presentation as a mark of protest against the government’s military campaign in the north.
This is the fourth budget to be presented by President Rajapaksa, who is also the finance minister, after he was elected to office November 2005.
“Even at this decisive moment, I request the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists to lay down their weapons and enter the democratic process. If they do not do so, our troops will take steps to bring them to their knees,” Rajapaksa, also the minister of defence and commander-in-chief of the armed force, said while making the budget speech.
According to provisional figures presented to parliament in early October, the government plans to raise defence spending to a record of Rs.177.1 billion (approx $1.6 billion) in 2009 from Rs.166.44 billion in 2008.
Insisting that the military onslaught would “clear the (island’s) north from the LTTE like in the east”, President Rajapaksa said “the provincial council election would be held (in the north also) to restore democracy”.
He said that his coalition government had taken steps to rehabilitate guerrillas surrendering to the government.
As the president walked into the chamber of the house to present the budget, TNA parliamentary group leader R. Sampanthan got up from his seat and made a statement that the party was protesting against the colossal sum allocated for defence expenditure, which he alleged was being used “against Tamils”.
The speaker ruled that the only the budget presentation would be allowed and asked the TNA leader to sit down. The TNA MPs walked out of the house.
Special security arrangements have been in place in and around parliament for the budget presentation. Additional troops were deployed on roads leading to parliament at Sri Jayawardanapura, around six km east of Colombo.
Reading out the budget proposals, President Rajapaksa announced amid applause from the government ranks that the price of automobile diesel would be reduced by Rs.30 while the patrol price would be cut by Rs.15.
The budget also proposes to increase taxes on a score of imported items such as confectionaries, automobile spare parts, ceramic ware, leather products, garments and ayurvedic products, while proposing to reduce the present tax rate of 15 percent to 12 percent.
In his budget speech, President Rajapaksa charged that some anti-Sri Lanka elements were engaging in conspiracy “trying to portray our country as one that violates the human rights and disrespects democracy”.
“Some non-government organisations (NGOs) are engaged in a malicious campaign to discredit this government as an anti-democratic, militaristic and corrupted one. They are trying to prevent the country from benefiting from the international trade concessions and development assistance by trying to discredit the pride of this country and the government,” he said.
“But all these allegations are untrue and our people have clearly understood the motives behind these elements. The people expressed their unreserved support to the government by voting our party at the recently concluded north-central and Uva provincial polls,” he pointed out.
The budget presentation came at a time when the troops said they had successfully made multi-pronged advancement towards the LTTE’s “administrative capital” Kilinochchi in the north.
The military brass said last week that troops were operating just a few kilometres away from Kilinochchi town, 354 km from Colombo.
The LTTE has been fighting against the Sri Lankan state to carve out a separate state for Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of the island for a quarter century.
Thousands have died in escalating fighting since late 2005.
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Tags: budget presentation, defence expenditure, liberation tigers of tamil eelam, mahinda rajapaksa, member parliament, military onslaught, president mahinda rajapaksa, provincial council election, sri lankan president, tamil tigers