(Colombo) Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on Thursday, a post the pro-Western reformist has already held five times, with the task of forming a unity government in the midst of the economic crisis and after. deadly clashes during protests this week.

Mr Wickremesinghe, 73, has been sworn in, according to the media office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who himself is facing widespread protests demanding his resignation due to worsening economic difficulties.

“We want to bring the nation back to a situation where our people will have three meals a day again,” Wickremesinghe said shortly afterwards. “Our youth must have a future,” he added.

This country of 22 million inhabitants, in the grip of the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, lacks dollars to finance the import of basic necessities (foodstuffs, fuel, medicines). Widespread shortages and long power cuts have prompted daily protests across Sri Lanka.

On Wednesday evening, in his first address to his compatriots since the protests began, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 72, pledged to form a unity government. He then promised to “appoint a prime minister who will lead a majority in parliament and inspire the confidence of the people”.

His brother Mahinda Rajapaksa had resigned as prime minister on Monday shortly after his supporters, armed with sticks and truncheons, attacked peaceful demonstrators who had been protesting for several weeks.

The assaults sparked clashes that left at least nine dead and more than 225 injured, according to police.

On Thursday, Mahinda Rajapaksa sent his “congratulations” to his successor. “I wish you all the best in your work in these troubled times,” he said.

A curfew, in effect throughout the territory since that day, was lifted Thursday morning to allow the population to go out to get supplies before being reimposed six hours later.

On the same day, a court banned the ex-prime minister, his son Namal and 15 of his allies from traveling abroad due to violence against anti-government protesters.

It is the sixth time since 1993 that Ranil Wickremesinghe, 73, has taken office as prime minister.

He is the only deputy of the United National Party (UNP) since his rout in the legislative elections of August 2020, when the formation of President Rajapaksa had won a two-thirds majority in the assembly.

Mr Wickremesinghe will have to form a “unity government” with the support of all parties in the parliament, which has 225 MPs.

Since the flood of defections suffered by the presidential camp in April, no political group has enjoyed an absolute majority.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has worked closely with Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the past two months to overhaul the finance ministry and central bank for sweeping fiscal and monetary reforms, the source said.

According to officials, it was in this context that the newly appointed central bank governor, Nandalal Weerasinghe, announced on April 12 the default on the repayment of Sri Lanka’s $51 billion foreign debt.

It is still within this framework that he almost doubled interest rates and allowed the devaluation of the rupee to ensure better liquidity of foreign currencies in commercial banks.

On Wednesday, hours before the presidential address, Mr. Weerasinghe had warned that the economy was on the verge of reaching a tipping point.

“If there is no government in the next two days, the economy will collapse and no one can save it,” he warned.

The main opposition party, the SJB, had initially been invited to lead a new government, but its leader Saith Premadasa refuses to find himself under the authority of the head of state, whose resignation he demands beforehand.

A dozen SJB MPs have pledged their support for Wickremesinghe, seen as a pro-Western reformist and pro-free trader.

“We have wasted too much time in Parliament without addressing the central issue of the economy,” said Harin Fernando, an opposition MP. According to him, Sri Lanka “needs at least $85 million a week to finance essential imports”.

Sri Lanka is currently in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a possible bailout.



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