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Down in the deep south of Sri Lanka, where life usually moves at a leisurely pace, there is one small town that is less tranquil. Hambantota — population 20,000 — is expanding fast. There is a vast new deepwater port, built with $360 million of borrowed Chinese cash; a new 35,000-seat cricket stadium; a huge convention center; and a $200 million international airport. A broad-gauge railway is under construction. Powerful people have ambitions for Hambantota. None is more powerful or more ambitious than President Mahinda Rajapaksa, born nearby in 1945.

There is much construction in Sri Lanka these days. The island nation was already one of the wealthiest in South Asia but its economy had been held back by decades of civil conflict. Now the war is over and growth rates, the government claims, are touching 7 percent.

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