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Sri Lankan protesters push anti-government campaign despite new prime minister

Sri Lanka’s main opposition party on Friday joined anti-government protesters in rejecting the nomination of a new prime minister and insisted the president resign to take responsibility for the country’s disastrous economic crisis.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nominated five-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for his sixth term on Thursday evening, but comments from the opposition indicated he was unlikely to resolve the political and economic disarray in the strategic island nation of the ‘Indian Ocean.

A week of violent clashes between protesters and government supporters across the country has left nine people dead and more than 300 injured. The president’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, left his post as prime minister on Monday as the violence escalated and is hiding at a military base.

The rest of the cabinet resigned earlier.

“It is clear that the (new) prime minister is remotely controlled by the president,” said Eran Wickramaratne, a parliamentarian and senior member of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya. “This country wants the Rajapaksas to return home. We are committed to that goal.”

Protesters who camped at a site near the prime minister’s office for more than a month also rejected the nomination.

“We will stop this struggle when our people get justice,” said Chamalage Shivakumar, one of hundreds at the “Gota Go Home” protest site, named after the president.

“Whoever they appoint as prime minister, we won’t stop this fight until people are relieved.”

Wickremesinghe, 73, is the only lawmaker from his United National Party in parliament and will depend on rival political parties to form a coalition government. A Rajapaksa-led alliance holds about 100 of the 225 seats in parliament, while the opposition holds 58. The rest are independents.

On Friday, Wickremesinghe spoke with foreign envoys representing India, Japan, the United States and China, his office said.

“We discussed further cooperation for economic recovery and stability in Sri Lanka through democratic processes,” the Indian High Commission in Colombo said in a tweet.

New Delhi is vying for Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, which sits on key shipping routes between Asia and Europe and is home to major infrastructure projects funded by both countries.

The prime minister also held an emergency meeting with officials from the Department of Energy regarding the chronic fuel shortages that have plagued the island for months.

Protesters said Wickremesinghe’s appointment would do little to quell anger at the president, who they say is ultimately responsible for the worst economic crisis to hit the country since its independence from Great Britain. Britain in 1948.

Hit hard by the pandemic, rising oil prices and the populist tax cuts of the Rajapaksa brothers, Sri Lanka is extremely poor in foreign exchange.

Rampant inflation and fuel shortages have taken thousands to the streets in a month of protests that had remained mostly peaceful until this week.

Sri Lanka’s electricity regulator said on Friday power cuts had risen to an average of five-and-a-half hours a day this week as no fuel was available for thermal power generation.

“A cargo of crude oil has been in port for a week but the government has been unable to honor the payment. However, we have increased hydro and renewable power to around 60% to cover the shortfall “said Janaka, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka. Ratnayake said in a statement.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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