Building booms in Sri Lanka president’s home town

HAMBANTOTA, August 17, 2011 (AFP) – When the 2004 Asian tsunami hit Sri Lanka, the sleepy fishing region of Hambantota was flattened and 3,000 people perished. Now it is riding a massive wave of construction. Hambantota, the home constituency of President Mahinda Rajapakse, is not only emerging as a commercial and logistics hub of Sri Lanka, but is also attracting attention as a new geo-political hotspot in South Asia.

“The port in Hambantota will be the catalyst to make Hambantota the new commercial capital of Sri Lanka in the next three years,” said Priyath Wickrama, the chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.

He dismissed suggestions that the Chinese who were given contracts to build the first phase of the $1.5 billion deep-sea port will have a foothold in the region and be a threat to neighbouring India.

“What we have with China is purely a commercial transaction,” Wickrama said. “The Chinese will have nothing to do with running the port. We are opening up the port area for investments in industries by anybody.”

Indian officials have expressed fears that the southern town is part of a Chinese policy to throw a “string of pearls” — or a circle of influence — around South Asia’s nucl