COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's president swore in four new Cabinet ministers Saturday in an effort to ensure stability until a full cabinet is formed in the island nation engulfed in a political and economic crisis.
The appointment of four ministers came two days after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reappointed five-time former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, after his predecessor — the president’s brother Mahinda Rajapaksa — resigned Monday following violent attacks by his supporters on peaceful anti-government protesters.
His resignation automatically dissolved the Cabinet, leaving an administrative vacuum.
In a move bring back stability, president Rajapaksa reappointed Wickremesinghe on Thursday and swore in four cabinet ministers Saturday until a full cabinet is appointed.
Rajapaksa swore in ministers of foreign affairs, public administration and home affairs, urban development and power and energy, said a statement Saturday from president’s office.
All four ministers belong to the president's Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party. The new prime minister belongs to the United National Party.
Rajapaksa sought a unity government in early April but the largest opposition political party, the United People’s Force, or SJB, had immediately rejected the proposal.
The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended repayment of its foreign loans pending negotiations on a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund.
It needs to repay $7 billion in foreign debt this year out of $25 billion due by 2026. Its total foreign debt is $51 billion. The finance ministry says the country currently has only $25 million in usable foreign reserves.
For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad. Shortages of hard currency have also hindered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which surged to 18.7% in March.
Sri Lanka’s economic woes have brought on a political crisis, with the government facing widespread protests for several weeks.
Authorities on Wednesday deployed armored vehicles and troops in the streets of the capital after attacks on protesters triggered a wave of violence across the country. Nine people died and more than 200 were injured.
Security forces have been ordered to shoot people deemed to be participating in the violence as sporadic acts of arson and vandalism continued despite a strict nationwide curfew that began Monday evening.
Protesters had demanded the resignations of the Rajapaksa brothers because of the debt crisis that has nearly bankrupted the country and caused severe shortages of fuel, food and other essentials.
So far, president Rajapaksa has resisted calls for his resignation.
Bharatha Mallawarachi, The Associated Press