Sri Lanka’s powerful president settles in for the long-haul

November 18, 2010 (AFP) – Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse kicks off a second term Friday, promising economic rebirth for the war-ravaged island with the help of nations who have snubbed Western calls for a war crimes probe. Rajapakse, who turned 65 Thursday, begins his fresh, six-year mandate from an unprecedented position of strength following a constitutional revamp two months ago that ramped up his executive powers.

With his personal popularity running high, family members in key government positions, the opposition divided and his only serious political rival in prison, the president’s control over the island republic seems complete.

Brushing off concerns voiced by countries like the United States that his powers pose a threat to Sri Lanka’s democracy, Rajapakse insists they are necessary to rebuild the country following final victory last year in the decades-old civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

Vowing to make Sri Lanka the “wonder of Asia,” he has set in motion or proposed a series of ambitious infrastructure plans, including a 1.5-billion-dollar port in the southern town of Hambantota that he opened on Thursday.

“When I came to power I promised an honourable peace and a new Sri Lanka. I have kept