official: Wickremesinghe to be appointed Prime Minister of Sri Lanka | world news

By KRISHAN FRANCIS, Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Five-time Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be reappointed Thursday in an effort to bring stability to the island nation, engulfed in political and economic crisis, a party official said.

“He is being sworn in as Prime Minister tonight because a number of MPs have asked him to take over and solve the country’s problems,” said Vajira Abeywardena, head of the United National Party, led by Wickremesinghe.

Abeywardena said more than 160 lawmakers in the 225-member parliament supported Wickremesinghe’s selection, but this could not be independently verified. There was no immediate comment from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has the power to appoint the prime minister.

If Rajapaksa chooses Wickremesinghe, it would be seen as an attempt to end the violence sparked by the crisis and restore international credibility as his government negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund and debt restructuring plans.

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The president’s brother, Mahinda Rajakapsa, resigned as prime minister on Monday following violent attacks by his supporters on peaceful anti-government protesters. His resignation automatically dissolved the Cabinet, leaving an administrative vacuum.

Authorities deployed armored vehicles and troops to the streets of the capital on Wednesday after attacks on protesters sparked a wave of violence across the country. Nine people died and more than 200 were injured.

Security forces have been ordered to shoot those suspected of taking part in the violence, as sporadic acts of arson and vandalism continue despite a strict nationwide curfew that began on Monday evening.

The demonstrators demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother because of the economic crisis.

Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy and has suspended repayments of $7 billion in foreign loans due this year. The IMF said any short- or long-term aid depended on the outcome of talks with creditors on loan restructuring. Sri Lanka must repay about $25 billion in foreign loans by 2026 out of a current total external debt of $51 billion.

The Ministry of Finance said earlier this month that the country’s usable foreign exchange reserves had fallen to just $25 million.

The shortage of foreign currency has led to a sharp drop in imports, leading to severe shortages of essentials such as fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine. For months, people have had to line up to buy limited supplies, and many have come away empty-handed.

Wickremesinghe, 73, has served in parliament for 45 years. He has extensive international connections and is considered a skilled negotiator.

His political party split in 2019 amid a leadership crisis and most senior members left to form a new party, which is currently the country’s main opposition.

Wickremesinghe’s reputation was tarnished during his previous term as prime minister, when he was in an uneasy power-sharing deal with former president Maithripala Sirisena. Internal conflict and a breakdown in communication between him and Sirisena have been blamed for intelligence failures that led to the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombings that killed more than 260 people.

He was also accused of shielding a friend he appointed as head of the Central Bank from insider trading allegations.

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