Sri Lanka needs to rectify its "errors and failures" and review its strengths and gains as a nation, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Saturday, as the country marked its 75th anniversary of independence.

The main Independence Day event was attended by foreign dignitaries, including India's Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan.

Wickremesinghe presided over the ceremony which featured a military parade with a 21-gun salute.

The celebrations happened despite criticism from Opposition groups who claimed the events costing Rupees 200 million were a waste as the island nation continues to grip in its worst economic crisis since gaining independence.

Crisis and opportunity

In his message, Wickremesinghe said: “Our 75th anniversary of independence from colonial rule is being observed during an extremely critical and challenging time in the country”.

“However it presents an opportunity for us not only to review our strengths and gains as a nation but also to rectify our errors and failures," he said.

In 2022, Sri Lanka faced the worst economic crisis since its independence, which led to months-long public protests leading to a political crisis. Shortages of essentials due to the forex crisis forced people onto the streets demanding the resignation of the then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Last year in April, Sri Lanka declared its first-ever debt default in its history.

Protests against the government

Saturday's Independence day event was boycotted by all Opposition groups who claimed it had no public mandate and was a burden on a public already hurt by the crisis. They pointed to scarcities of food and medicine leaving people in poverty.

In the Tamil minority-dominated north, black flags were raised in protest. Tamils claimed they were denied political freedom since the Britons left in 1948. Sinhalese, mostly Buddhist, make up nearly 75 per cent of Sri Lanka's 22 million population while Tamils are 15 per cent.

The city of Colombo was placed on a tight security net with armed troops being seen on the streets.

A sit-in protest organised by a group of protesters from last year’s protest was dispersed by the police using tear gas at midnight. At least four protesters were arrested.

The police had obtained a court order preventing public protests anywhere near the Galle Face promenade where the main celebratory event happened. Some 29 people had been named in the court order to stay away from the main location of celebrations.

To mark Independence Day, 208 officers and 7,790 other ranks of the Sri Lanka Army have been promoted. Presidential pardons were given to 622 convicts.