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Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa swore in a new prime minister on Thursday in a bid to end the political turmoil and street violence wracking the South Asian nation.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, 73, a former prime minister and a veteran politician now with the opposition, was picked for the post three days after former premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother of the president, quit.
After weeks of mostly peaceful protests, Sri Lanka has been rocked this week by clashes between anti-government protesters and ruling party supporters, with residences and vehicles of lawmakers also attacked.
The political trouble comes amid a severe economic hardship and shortages of fuel, food and medicine.
“My main aim is to resolve the economic crisis in the country and see that the people have their food,” Wickremesinghe said after the swearing-in ceremony.
Wickremsinghe’s appointment drew protests from opposition parties on the grounds that his United National Party holds just one seat in Parliament.
But President Rajapaksa’s ruling SLPP has decided to extend its support to Wickremesinghe. Constitutionally a majority of 113 seats are required to maintain a government in the 225-seat Parliament.
Initially, the position of prime minister was offered to the main opposition in Parliament, but they called for the president to also quit his post. The demand was rebuffed.
Wickremesinghe is the leader of the United National Party, which ruled the country for 38 of the 74 years since gaining independence in 1948.
However, due to a split in the party in 2020 a majority of the members broke away and then contested the parliamentary elections.
They are the Samagi Jana Balawegyaya (SJB) and are the main opposition in Parliament.   Wickremesinghe served as prime minister on four previous occasions, dating back to 1993.
His immediate challenges include ending the long fuel and gas queues and providing relief to those suffering from the island’s unprecedented economic crisis.
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