Sri Lanka protesters push anti-government campaign despite new prime minister

Sri Lanka’s main opposition party joined anti-government protesters on Friday by rejecting the appointment of a new prime minister and urging the president to step down to take responsibility for the country’s catastrophic economic crisis.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa late Thursday appointed five-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to his sixth term, but opposition comments indicated that political and economic turmoil in the strategic island nation in the Indian Ocean was unlikely to be resolved.

A week of violent clashes between protesters and government supporters across the country has left nine dead and more than 300 injured. The president’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister on Monday as violence escalated and is hiding in a military base.

The rest of the cabinet resigned earlier.

“It is clear that the (new) prime minister is remotely controlled by the president,” said Eran Wickramaratne, a parliamentarian and senior member of the main opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya. “This country wants the rajapaksas to go home. We are committed to that goal.”

Protesters who camped for more than a month at a site near the prime minister’s office also rejected the nomination.

“We will stop this fight when our people get justice,” said Chamalage Shivakumar, one of hundreds of people at the “Gota Go Home” protest site named after the president.

“Whoever they appoint as prime minister, we will not stop this struggle until people get relief.”

Wickremesinghe, 73, is the sole legislator from his United National Party in parliament and will depend on rival political parties to form a coalition government. An alliance led by the Rajapaksa has about 100 of the 225 seats in parliament, while the opposition has 58 seats. The rest are independent.

On Friday, Wickremesinghe held talks with foreign envoys representing India, Japan, the United States and China, his office said.

“Talk about continuing cooperation for economic recovery and stability in Sri Lanka through democratic processes,” India’s High Commission in Colombo said in a tweet.

New Delhi is battling China for influence in Sri Lanka, which lies on major shipping routes between Asia and Europe and where major infrastructure projects are financed by both countries.

The prime minister also held an emergency meeting with energy ministry officials about chronic fuel shortages that have plagued the island for months.

Protesters said Wickremesinghe’s appointment will do little to ease anger against the president, who they believe is ultimately responsible for the worst economic crisis to hit the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Been ravaged by the pandemic, soaring oil prices and populist tax cuts by the Rajapaksa brothers, Sri Lanka has critically low foreign exchange rates.

Rampant inflation and fuel shortages took thousands to the streets in a month of protests that had remained mostly peaceful until this week.

Sri Lanka’s power regulator said Friday that power cuts had risen to an average of five and a half hours a day this week, as fuel was not available for thermal power generation.

“There has been a cargo of crude oil in the port for a week, but the government has not been able to make the payment. However, we have increased the hydro and renewable energy to about 60% to cover the shortfall,” President Janaka of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka. Ratnayake said in a statement.

(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and was generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)

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