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Sri Lankan leader defends rights record at Commonwealth amid calls for war crimes probe

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    Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures as he answers a question during a media briefing a day ahead of Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. Sri Lanka denies any rights abuses were committed by its forces. It balks at demands for an independent investigation, with the country's president defending Sri Lanka's actions in comments to reporters Thursday. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)The Associated Press

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    A Sri Lankan police man stands guard as delegates of the Commonwealth Heads of Governments arrive, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. The palm-flecked island nation of Sri Lanka plays host this week to leaders from dozens of Commonwealth nations at a summit it hopes will generate enough good will to eclipse three decades of grim history. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)The Associated Press

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    A Sri Lankan traffic police officer directs traffic away from the main road which is used for the Commonwealth Heads of Governments only, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. The palm-flecked island nation of Sri Lanka plays host this week to leaders from dozens of Commonwealth nations at a summit it hopes will generate enough good will to eclipse three decades of grim history. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)The Associated Press

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    Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa reacts during a media briefing a day ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. Sri Lanka denies any rights abuses were committed by its forces. It balks at demands for an independent investigation, with the country's president defending Sri Lanka's actions in comments to reporters Thursday. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)The Associated Press

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    Sri Lankan municipal workers clean a main road leading to the venue for the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. The palm-flecked island nation of Sri Lanka plays host this week to leaders from dozens of Commonwealth nations at a summit it hopes will generate enough good will to eclipse three decades of grim history. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)The Associated Press

The president of Sri Lanka hit out Thursday at reporters and critics who question his nation's human rights record, saying its institutions were dealing with complaints of abuses committed during or after its bloody 27-year civil war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was speaking on the sidelines of a summit for the 53 nations in the Commonwealth of Britain and its former territories, which has been criticized for holding this year's summit in the seaside capital of Colombo and accused of making a mockery of the group's core values of democracy and human rights.

"We are open. We have nothing to hide," Rajapaska said, despite refusing demands by world governments and the United Nations for an independent investigation into alleged atrocities committed by both rebels and soldiers.

"If anyone who wants to complain about human rights violations in Sri Lanka, whether its torture, whether it is rape, we have a system," Rajapaksa said. "If there is any violations, we will take actions against anybody, anybody. I am ready to do that."

The leaders of Canada, India and Mauritius have stayed away. Other leaders, including Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, have been forced by rights groups to justify their attendance by promising to call Sri Lanka to task.

The Commonwealth's Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma defended having the summit in Colombo by saying it allows Sri Lanka to meet with leaders who have dealt with issues of human rights, rule of law and judicial independence in their countries. He said "it shows the Commonwealth in action."

Since the war ended in 2009 with Sri Lanka's Sinhalese-dominated government forces smashing a sustained Tamil rebellion fighting for an independent homeland, the government has denied that any rights abuses were committed by its forces.

The government accuses journalists of fabricating allegations of atrocities, and rejects criticism of nepotism, even though five ministries are controlled by Rajapaksa and his three brothers. The parliament is also dominated by Rajapaksa's coalition.

On Thursday, Rajapaksa again lauded the wartime victory, saying "people were getting killed for 30 years. At least after 2009 we have stopped it."

Yet postwar reconciliation remains a far-off goal. Troops remain heavily deployed throughout the northern Tamil heartland on the teardrop-shaped island off southwest India.

Provincial elections held in September were seen as a step toward granting Tamils more autonomy, but also drew criticism for falling far below what is needed for postwar reconciliation.

The host of the Commonwealth's summit becomes the group's chair for two years until the next summit.

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Follow Katy Daigle on Twitter at twitter.com/katydaigle