By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI, Associated Press
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s president swore in four new cabinet ministers on Saturday in a bid to provide stability until a full cabinet is formed in the crisis-engulfed island nation. political and economic.
The appointment of four ministers came two days after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reappointed former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe five times, after his predecessor – President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother – resigned on Monday at the following violent attacks by his supporters on peaceful anti-government protesters.
His resignation automatically dissolved the Cabinet, leaving an administrative vacuum.
In a bid to bring stability, President Rajapaksa reappointed Wickremesinghe on Thursday and swore in four ministers on Saturday until a full cabinet is appointed.
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Rajapaksa was sworn in as ministers of foreign affairs, public administration and interior, urban development and electricity and energy, a statement from the president’s office said on Saturday.
The four ministers belong to the Sri Lankan Podujana Peramuna party of the president. The new Prime Minister belongs to the United National Party.
Rajapaksa called for a unity government in early April, but the largest opposition political party, the United People’s Force, or SJB, immediately rejected the proposal.
The Indian Ocean island nation is on the verge of bankruptcy and has suspended repayments of its foreign loans pending bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
It must repay $7 billion in external debt this year out of $25 billion due by 2026. Its total external debt is $51 billion. The Ministry of Finance says the country currently has only $25 million in usable foreign exchange reserves.
For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long queues to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad. Hard currency shortages have also hampered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which jumped to 18.7% in March.
Sri Lanka’s economic woes sparked a political crisis, with the government facing widespread protests for several weeks.
Authorities deployed armored vehicles and troops to the streets of the capital on Wednesday after attacks on protesters sparked a wave of violence across the country. Nine people died and more than 200 were injured.
Security forces were ordered to shoot those seen as taking part in the violence as sporadic acts of arson and vandalism continued despite a strict nationwide curfew that began on Monday evening.
Protesters had demanded the resignation of the Rajapaksa brothers over the debt crisis that nearly bankrupted the country and caused severe shortages of fuel, food and other basic necessities.
So far, President Rajapaksa has resisted calls for his resignation.
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