Sri Lanka on Thursday appointed a new prime minister as its troubled president seeks a way out of the country’s worst economic crisis since independence, sparking widespread protests.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, a political veteran who has been the island’s prime minister five times before, must try to tackle financial turmoil and heal political divisions when he is about to form a coalition government.
“We are facing a crisis, we have to get out of it,” Vikram Singh told Reuters as he walked out of a temple in the main city of Colombo shortly after taking his oath. Asked if there was a possible solution, he replied: “Absolutely.”
The 73-year-old economic liberal with experience working with the International Monetary Fund is currently in talks to grant bail to Sri Lanka.
He has forged ties with regional powers India and China, key investors and lenders who are fighting for influence over the island nation, which is located along a busy shipping route connecting Asia with Europe.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has congratulated the new Prime Minister.
My best wishes to the newly appointed Prime Minister … who has taken on the challenging task of running our country through a very turbulent time, “he tweeted.” I look forward to working with him to re-energize Sri Lanka. ” “
The current crisis could be Vikramasinghe’s biggest challenge.
Economic mismanagement, the Kovid-19 epidemic, and rising fuel costs in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have drained state coffers, meaning Sri Lanka is experiencing lower prices for fuel and essential medicines and daily electricity blackouts.
Rajapaksa, whose elder brother Vikramasinghe has replaced him as prime minister, has called for a nationwide curfew and given security forces the power to shoot anyone involved in looting or endangering human lives.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday, went into hiding at the naval base.
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Ordinary people have become increasingly frustrated with the disruption of normal life.
“We have come down economically,” said Nimal Jayant, an autorickshaw driver queuing for petrol on Thursday after the curfew was lifted.
“I don’t have time to work. As long as I stay in the fuel line and get petrol, curfew will be imposed. I will have to go home without any money.”
During the brief relaxation of the curfew, many people boarded buses in Colombo on Thursday to return to their hometowns.
Most of the peaceful protests turned violent on Monday after Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters attacked an anti-government protest camp in Colombo.
The days of violent retaliation against government officials affiliated with the powerful Rajapaksa tribe followed.
Security forces were called in to patrol the streets, and police said nine people were killed and more than 300 injured in the clashes, which have since subsided.
Protesters sprayed graffiti on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s home in a southern town and vandalized a museum dedicated to his father. They have vowed to continue protesting until the president resigns.
On Thursday, a magistrate’s court issued an order barring him, his son Namal and other key associates from leaving the country, lawyers attending the hearing said.
In a tweet following the order, Namal Rajapaksa said, “I will personally co-operate fully in the investigation into the unfortunate incident that took place on Monday.”
“I have no desire to leave my father or me (Sri Lanka).”
The Colombo stock market, closed for the past two days, rose more than three percent on Thursday on optimism about a new cabinet, traders said. It was closed before Vikramasinghe was appointed.
Sri Lanka’s central bank governor said on Wednesday that failure to find a solution to the crisis in the next one to two weeks would result in 10 to 12 hours of power outages a day, as well as 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 step down until he resigns.