Sri Lanka names new prime minister to address growing crisis

Sri Lanka names new prime minister to address growing crisis

  • Wickremesinghe has previously held the post five times
  • The island state urgently needs cash in talks with the IMF
  • The protests turned deadly this week before dying down

COLOMBO, May 12 (Reuters) – Sri Lanka on Thursday appointed a new prime minister as its embattled president seeks a way out of the country’s worst economic crisis since independence that has sparked widespread protests.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, a political veteran who previously served as the island nation’s prime minister five times, must try to address the financial mess and heal political divisions while he works to form a coalition government.

“We are facing a crisis, we have to get out of this,” Wickremesinghe told Reuters as he exited a temple in the capital Colombo shortly after being sworn in. When asked if there was a possible solution, he replied, “Absolutely.”

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The 73-year-old is an economic liberal who has experience dealing with the International Monetary Fund, which is currently holding talks to bail out Sri Lanka.

He has also forged ties with regional powers India and China, key investors and lenders vying for influence in the island nation, which sits on busy shipping routes connecting Asia with Europe.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa congratulated the new Prime Minister.

My best wishes to the newly appointed Prime Minister…who has taken on the challenging task of leading our country through a very turbulent time,” he tweeted. “I look forward to working with him to make Sri Lanka strong again. “

The current crisis could be Wickremesinghe’s biggest challenge yet.

Economic mismanagement, the COVID-19 pandemic and rising energy costs following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have drained government coffers, meaning Sri Lanka is running low on fuel and essential medicines, and experiencing daily power outages.

Rajapaksa, whose elder brother Wickremesinghe succeeded as prime minister, has imposed nationwide curfews and given the security forces sweeping powers to shoot at anyone involved in looting or endangering people’s lives.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday, has gone into hiding at a naval base.

NO MONEY

Ordinary people are increasingly frustrated by disruptions to normal life.

“We’ve hit rock bottom economically,” said Nimal Jayantha, an auto rickshaw driver who was in line Thursday after the gas curfew was lifted.

“I don’t have time to do my job. A curfew is imposed until I stand in the gas station queue and get gas. I have to go home with no money.”

Crowds crowded onto buses in Colombo on Thursday to return to their hometowns during a brief relaxation of curfews.

Mostly peaceful demonstrations erupted into violence Monday after supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa attacked an anti-government protest camp in Colombo. Continue reading

Days of violent reprisals against government officials linked to the powerful Rajapaksa clan followed.

Security forces were called to patrol the streets and police said nine people were killed and more than 300 injured in the clashes, which have since subsided.

Protesters have graffitied the home of Mahinda Rajapaksa in a southern town and looted a museum dedicated to his father. They have vowed to continue the protests until the President resigns. Continue reading

On Thursday, a magistrate’s court issued orders preventing him, his son Namal and other key allies from leaving the country, lawyers present at the hearing said.

“Personally, I will extend my fullest cooperation to any investigation that takes place regarding Monday’s unfortunate events,” Namal Rajapaksa said in a tweet following the order.

“Neither my father nor I have any intention of leaving Sri Lanka.”

Colombo’s stock market, which had been closed for the past two days, closed up more than three percent on Thursday on optimism about a new cabinet, traders said. It was closed before Wickremesinghe was appointed.

Sri Lanka’s central bank governor said Wednesday that failure to find a solution to the crisis in the next week or two would result in power outages of up to 10-12 hours a day and his own resignation.

President Rajapaksa has repeatedly called for a unity government to find a way out of the crisis, but opposition leaders say they will not serve until he resigns.

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Reporting by Alasdair Pal, Uditha Jayasinghe and Channa Kumara in Colombo; writing by Mike Collett-White; Edited by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Alex Richardson and Andrew Heavens

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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