Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his first comments after swearing-in as the new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on Thursday, said the island nation’s relations with India will be “much better” than the previous government. Wickremesinghe also said he has taken on the challenge of uplifting the economy and will fulfill it.
“I have taken on the challenge of uplifting the economy and I must fulfill it,” news agency ANI quoted Wickremesinghe as saying in Colombo.
When asked about the India-Sri Lanka relations, he replied, “It will become much better.”
His statement comes even as India said it looks 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.
“India’s commitment to the people of Sri Lanka will continue,” the High Commission said in a tweet.
The 73-year-old United National Party (UNP) leader was appointed as the prime minister by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after they held closed-door discussions on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948. Clashes broke out on Monday after government supporters attacked peaceful anti-government protest sites in Colombo and elsewhere, killing at least 8 people and leaving over 200 others injured in the violence.
When asked about the protest, Wickremesinghe said, “They should stay. We want them to stay. If they want to talk, yes.”
Wickremesinghe, who has served as the country’s prime minister four times, was in October 2018 ousted from the post of prime minister by then-President Maithripala Sirisena. However, he was reinstalled as the prime minister by Sirisena after two months.
“High Commission of India hopes for political stability and looks forward to working with the Government of Sri Lanka formed in accordance with democratic processes pursuant to the swearing-in of Hon’ble @RW_UNP as the Prime Minister of SriLanka,” it said.
In its first reaction to the situation in Sri Lanka after Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as Prime Minister, India on Tuesday said it was “fully supportive” of the island nation’s democracy, stability and economic recovery.
“India will always be guided by the best interests of the people of Sri Lanka expressed through democratic processes,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in New Delhi.
“In keeping with our Neighbourhood First policy, India has extended this year alone support worth over USD 3.5 billion to the people of Sri Lanka for helping them overcome their current difficulties. In addition, the people of India have provided assistance for mitigating the shortages of essential items such as food and medicine,” the MEA said in a press release.
Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis has provoked widespread protests calling for political reform and the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. On April 1, President Rajapaksa imposed a state of emergency, lifting it five days later. The government reimposed a state of emergency on May 6 after police fired teargas and arrested students protesting near parliament, which was adjourned until May 17.
Although the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, the police fatally shot a protester on April 19, and on several occasions have used teargas and water cannons against protesters. The authorities have made numerous arrests and repeatedly imposed curfews.
The political crisis was triggered in late March when people hurt by long hours of power cuts and essential shortages took to the streets demanding the resignation of the government.
President Rajapaksa sacked his cabinet and appointed a younger cabinet as a response to the demand for resignation. A continuous protest opposite his secretariat has now gone on for well over a month.
Last Monday, his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as the prime minister to make way for the president to appoint an interim all political party government.
Sri Lankan authorities on Wednesday deployed troops and military vehicles in the streets to ensure public security in the Capital amidst nationwide protests over the government’s failure to tackle the worst economic crisis.
(With inputs from ANI, PTI)