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Sri Lankan president says 'will appoint new PM, cabinet' as crisis deepens

Sri Lankan soldiers patrol during curfew in Colombo, May 11, 2022. (Photo by AP)

Sri Lanka’s embattled president Gotabaya Rajapaksa in an address to the nation on Wednesday said he will appoint a new premier and a cabinet this week amid the current state of emergency.

"I am going to appoint the prime minister and the cabinet that has the trust of the people," Rajapaksa said in a televised address after troops were deployed in the heart of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

Rajapaksa also spoke on recent violent clashes in the South Asian country and said he has ordered “relevant authorities" to take action against the perpetrators of the violence.

“No one can justify the violent acts orchestrated on May 9 and during the past few days," he said, adding, “violence and hatred must be stopped."

On Tuesday, he had urged people to stop “violence and acts of revenge” against fellow citizens and vowed to address the political and economic crisis gripping the country.

The nationwide curfew, which was expected to be lifted on Wednesday, was extended at least until Thursday morning, according to a government circular.

Eight people have been killed and over 200 injured since May 9 in the worst violence to hit the country, according to the defense ministry. In addition, 104 buildings and 60 vehicles have also been burned.

Security forces have been ordered to go on the offensive and use live ammunition to stop rioting.

“The situation is getting better and we are hopeful of lifting the curfew by tomorrow morning,” Kamal Gunaratne, the country's defense chief, said during a press briefing on Wednesday.

The incidents of violence prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was later rescued from his Colombo residence by soldiers after it was besieged by an angry crowd. The former leader is now being guarded at a naval base on the other side of the country.

Sporadic violence and arson attacks continue in the country. Mobs have set alight dozens of homes belonging to ruling-party politicians around the country in recent days.

Government troops have so far not enforced the curfew at a protest camp by the capital's seafront, where a crowd has been present for the past month to demand the resignation of the government. 

The site faces the office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda's younger brother.

In a tweet on Wednesday morning, Gotabaya called upon the people to “reject the subversive attempts to push you towards racial & religious disharmony.” 

“This is the time for all Sri Lankans to join hands as one, to overcome the economic, social & political challenges,” Rajapaksa said.

“I urge all #Srilankans to reject the subversive attempts to push you towards racial & religious disharmony. Promoting moderation, toleration & coexistence is vital.” 

Supporters of Sri Lanka’s ruling party demonstrate in Colombo, May 9, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Elsewhere, the Indian High Commission in Colombo categorically denied media reports that New Delhi would send its troops to Colombo. 

“The High Commission would like to categorically deny speculative reports in sections of media and social media about #India sending her troops to Sri Lanka. These reports and such views are also not in keeping with the position of the Government of India,” it said in a statement.

As a close neighbor of Sri Lanka with historical ties, India is fully supportive of its democracy, stability, and economic recovery, India’s foreign ministry said in a separate statement.  

Sri Lankans are angry over the worsening economic crisis they believe the government has been mishandling.

Critics say the roots of the crisis, the worst in several decades, lie in economic mismanagement by successive governments that amassed huge budget shortfalls and a current account deficit.

The crisis was deepened by severe tax cuts Rajapaksa promised during the 2019 election campaign and enacted months before the COVID-19 pandemic, which wiped out parts of the economy.

The country has suffered months of blackouts and dire shortages of food, fuel, and medicines since independence in 1948. In April, the country announced it was defaulting on its $51-billion foreign debt.

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