Sri Lanka's new president to appoint ally of ousted Rajapaksa as PM - sources

·2 min read

By Uditha Jayasinghe and Waruna Cudah Nimal Karunatilake

COLOMBO (Reuters) -New Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe will appoint an ally of the ousted Rajapaksa dynasty as prime minister, four sources said on Thursday, a day after urging unity to find a way out of the country's worst economic crisis in decades.

Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, succeeded Gotabaya Rajapaksa who fled Sri Lanka and resigned from his post last week after mass protests over his handling of the economy. A swearing-in ceremony was conducted in parliament on Thursday.

He is expected to appoint Dinesh Gunewardena, a former foreign and education minister, as prime minister along with a new cabinet on Friday, the sources, close to Wickremesinghe and Gunewardena, said.

The country of 22 million people has been crippled by a lack of foreign currency, triggering shortages of fuel, food and medicines as prices soar.

Inflation hit an annual 59% in June, according to the statistics department.

Protesters succeeded in removing Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, ex-premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, but many want Wickremesinghe and others they see as allies of the family gone too.

Sri Lanka received fresh diesel supplies over the weekend, and the main state-run distributor, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, will restart sales under a new rationing system from Thursday, the power and energy ministry said.

The protest movement that pushed out Rajapaksa - the first sitting Sri Lankan president to quit office - remained largely muted, despite Wickremesinghe's unpopularity among some sections of the population.

Only a handful of people were present outside the presidential secretariat on Thursday, a colonial-era building that was stormed by protesters this month along with the president's and prime minister's official residences.

But some have vowed to fight on against Wickremesinghe.

"We won't give up because what the country needs is a total system change," said Pratibha Fernando, a protester at the secretariat. "We want to get rid of these corrupted politicians, so that's what we are doing."

Hours after winning the parliamentary vote on Wednesday, Wickremesinghe appeared to distance himself from the Rajapaksa family that dominated politics in Sri Lanka for decades.

"I am not a friend of the Rajapaksas. I am a friend of the people," he told reporters after praying at a Buddhist temple.

Wickremesinghe, who served as prime minister and finance minister under Rajapaksa, has been involved in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bail out package worth up to $3 billion.

Sri Lanka is also looking for assistance from neighbouring India, China and other international partners.

(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe in Colombo, Additional reporting by Adnan Abidi and Sunil Kataria, writing by Alasdair Pal and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

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