Colombo: New Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka has said he looks 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.
Wickremesinghe, 73, was sworn-in as Sri Lanka’s 26th prime minister on Thursday to stabilise the country’s debt-ridden economy and end the political turmoil.
Referring to the Indian economic assistance to his country, Wickremesinghe said, “I want a closer relationship and I want to thank Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi.”
Wickremesinghe was appointed the Prime Minister as the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party and the third-largest party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) attached tough conditions, such as the resignation of President Rajapaksa, to lead the interim government.
It is important to note that 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.
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 want to settle this problem to ensure the supply of petrol, diesel and electricity to the people,” Wickremesinghe said.
“I will do the job that I have undertaken to do.” Asked if he could sustain his premiership in the 225-member Parliament since he only has only one seat, he said, “I will prove the majority when it comes to that.”
Referring to the island-wide 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.