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Sri Lankan President seeks unity government to save economy

#Sri #Lankan #President #seeks #unity #government #save #economy

Sri Lanka’s new President Ranil Wickremesinghe has officially invited MPs to join an all-party unity government to revitalize the bankrupt economy by enacting painful reforms, his office said on Sunday.

Wickremesinghe took office earlier this month after public anger over the island nation’s worst economic crisis forced his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign.

At a meeting Saturday with influential monks at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, one of Buddhism’s most sacred shrines, Wickremesinghe outlined his plans.

“As president, I want to start a new journey,” Wickremesinghe was quoted as telling the monks at his first meeting with the powerful Buddhist clergy since taking office.

“I would like to bring all parties together and go on this journey and form an all-party government.”

He has written to all lawmakers asking them to join a unity government.

A former opposition MP Wickremesinghe, 73, took office for the sixth time in May after Rajapaksa’s older brother Mahinda resigned and there was no other candidate for the post.

Wickremesinghe became president after Gotabaya escaped on July 9 as tens of thousands of protesters angry over the economic crisis stormed the presidential palace.

He fled to Singapore from where he resigned five days later and Wickremesinghe became interim President and later won a vote in Parliament confirming his ascension.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people have endured months of power outages, record inflation and shortages of food, fuel and medicines.

Since the end of last year, the country has been running out of foreign exchange to finance even its most important imports.

In April, Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion external debt and opened bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Wickremesinghe told the monks the economy will continue to decline this year, with a 7.0 percent contraction, but expects a recovery next year.

“I’m working to stabilize this economy again and build the economy so that the country can be developed by 2023, 2024.

“It is a difficult task. But if you don’t do it now, it will be even harder. We should think about whether we should try to cure the patient with drugs or let the patient die without drugs,” he added.

He said inflation, currently at 60.8 percent, could rise further.

After his election as president, while ordering security forces to clear protest sites, Wickremesinghe appointed an interim cabinet that leaves the door open for others to join.

He has called a new session of parliament for Wednesday and is expected to expand the 18-member cabinet to include members from opposition parties.

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