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Sri Lanka’s new president vows for unity government

#Sri #Lankas #president #vows #unity #government

Sri Lanka’s six-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as president of the crisis-hit South Asian nation on Thursday, as officials said he is aiming to form a unity government to deal with the turmoil.

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

Live coverage of the swearing-in ceremony at the heavily guarded Parliament building was interrupted when Wickremesinghe and his wife Maithree entered the building after viewing a military parade.

“An investigation has been launched to find out why the transmission was interrupted,” a senior defense official told AFP.

Sri Lanka’s chief of police and senior military officials stood behind the new president as the oath was taken.

Official sources said he is expected to shortly form a cabinet of no more than 30 ministers to steer the country out of its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain.

A foreign exchange crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic and exacerbated by mismanagement has left Sri Lanka suffering protracted power outages and the country’s 22 million residents suffering months of fuel, food and medicine shortages.

Public anger over the difficulties boiled over as tens of thousands of protesters stormed the home of then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, forcing him to resign and paving the way for Wickremesinghe’s election.

Wickremesinghe is widely expected to invite his schoolmate and former Public Administration Minister Dinesh Gunawardena to the unity government as prime minister.

But political sources said at least two other candidates are also in the running.

Gunawardena and Wickremesinghe have known each other since they were three and studied together at the renowned Royal College of Colombo.

Gunawardena is a union leader representing a small nationalist party allied to the ousted Rajapaksa’s SLPP party.

“There will be a few MPs coming into the cabinet from the main opposition,” said a source close to Wickremesinghe, adding that he was keen to ensure a rainbow coalition.

– hard line –

After worshiping at a Buddhist temple on Wednesday following his election, Wickremesinghe vowed to crack down on troublemakers trying to disrupt his government.

He distinguished between peaceful demonstrators and “troublemakers” who resort to illegal means.

“If you’re trying to overthrow the government, to occupy the office of the President and the Prime Minister, that’s not democracy, it’s against the law,” Wickremesinghe said.

“We will deal with them strictly according to the law. We will not allow a minority of protesters to quell the aspirations of the silent majority clamoring 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 for the once-powerful family.

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

Officials said Wickremesinghe will hold his first official meeting with military officials and the Defense Ministry police chief on Thursday to discuss the security environment.

Constitutionally, the President is also Secretary of Defense and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

As incumbent President, Wickremesinghe had already declared a state of emergency, giving the military sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects.

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