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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 1°C
PA President Ranil Wickremesinghe at a buddhist temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka yesterday.
new president

New Sri Lanka president sworn in amid ongoing crisis

Protesters recently stormed the home of then-president Rajapaksa, forcing him to step down and clearing the way for a new president.

SRI LANKA’S SIX-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been sworn in as president of the crisis-hit South Asian nation, as officials said he was looking to form a unity government to manage the turmoil.

The 73-year-old veteran politician, who was overwhelmingly elected as head of state in a parliamentary vote yesterday, took his oath of office before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, his office said.

Live coverage of the swearing-in at the parliament complex was cut off just as Wickremesinghe and his wife Maithree walked into the building after reviewing a military parade.

“An investigation was launched to figure out why the broadcast was interrupted,” a top defence official told AFP.

A foreign exchange crisis triggered by the pandemic and exacerbated by mismanagement has left Sri Lanka suffering lengthy power blackouts and the country’s 22 million people enduring shortages of fuel, food and medicines for months.

Public anger over the hardships boiled over in recent weeks when tens of thousands of protesters stormed the home of then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, forcing him to step down and clearing the way for Wickremesinghe’s election.

While months of protests in Sri Lanka have focused on the Rajapaksa political dynasty, Wickremesinghe also has drawn protesters’ ire as a perceived Rajapaksa surrogate.

During demonstrations last week, crowds set his personal residence on fire and occupied his office.

Wickremesinghe has been leading the talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) seeking a bailout for the bankrupt island nation.

He said on Monday the negotiations were near a conclusion and talks on help from other countries had also progressed. He also said the government has taken steps to resolve shortages of fuel and cooking gas.

Yesterday, IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva told financial magazine Nikkei Asia that the organisation hoped to complete the rescue talks “as quickly as possible”.

Tough line

Wickremesinghe yesterday vowed to take a tough line against troublemakers trying to disrupt his government.

He made a distinction between peaceful protesters and “troublemakers” resorting to illegal means.

“If you try to topple the government, occupy the president’s office and the prime minister’s office, that is not democracy, it is against the law,” Wickremesinghe said.

“We will deal with them firmly according to the law. We will not allow a minority of protesters to suppress the aspirations of the silent majority clamouring for a change in the political system.”

Protesters who stormed Rajapaksa’s palace and toppled him earlier this month have accused Wickremesinghe of being a proxy of the once-powerful family.

“I am not a friend of the Rajapaksas,” he told reporters at the Gangaramaya temple. “I am a friend of the people.”

Officials said Wickremesinghe was due to hold his first official meeting with military brass and the police chief at the defence ministry today to discuss the security environment.

Constitutionally, the president is also the minister of defence and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Wickremesinghe, as acting president, had already declared a state of emergency that gives sweeping powers to the military to arrest and detain suspects.

© AFP 2022

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