Sri Lanka’s new PM Ranil Wickremesinghe wants closer ties with India

Colombo: Crisis-torn Sri Lanka now has a new Prime Minister – 73-year-old Ranil Wickremesinghe takes over from Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned after violence erupted following an attack on the anti-government protesters by his supporters. After taking charge, Wickremesinghe said, he is looking forward to closer ties with India during his term and thanked India for its economic assistance to the country as it tackles the worst economic crisis since independence. “I want a closer relationship and I want to thank Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi,” Wickremesinghe said, referring to the Indian economic assistance to his country.

His remarks came during a religious ceremony held here last night after he took the oath. India has committed more than USD 3 billion to debt-ridden Sri Lanka in loans, credit lines, and credit swaps since January this year.

India on Thursday said it looked forward to working with the new Sri Lankan government formed in accordance with the democratic processes and New Delhi’s commitment to the people of the island nation will continue.

The 73-year-old United National Party (UNP) leader took over as the prime minister as the country was without a government since Monday when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elder brother and prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned after violence erupted following an attack on the anti-government protesters by his supporters.

The attack triggered widespread violence against Rajapaksa loyalists, leaving nine people dead and wounding over 200 others. Wickremesinghe said his focus was limited to tackling the economic crisis. “I want to settle this problem to ensure the supply of petrol, diesel and electricity to the people,” Wickremesinghe said.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1948. The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices. “I will do the job that I have undertaken to do.”

Referring to the islandwide protests, Wickremesinghe said the main protest near president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s secretariat for over a month now would be allowed to continue. “I will talk to them (protesters) if they are willing,” he said. Asked if he feared protest demanding him to quit, he said he would face them. “If I can undertake the job to handle the economic crisis, I will handle that too,” he said.

(With PTI inputs)

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