Chinese president Xi offers Sri Lanka's new leader support amid crisis

Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in on July 21 as Sri Lanka's new president in the face of fierce public opposition. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Chinese President Xi Jinping offered Sri Lanka's new president his support on Friday (July 22), state broadcaster CCTV reported, as the Indian Ocean island grapples with its worst economic crisis in decades.

Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, a lawyer who served as Sri Lanka's prime minister a record six times, was sworn in on Thursday in the face of fierce public opposition.

Sri Lanka's crisis sparked months of mass protests and eventually forced then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country.

In his message, Mr Xi said he believes Sri Lanka will be able to move towards economic and social recovery and he is "ready to provide support and assistance to the best of my ability to President Wickremesinghe and the people of Sri Lanka in their efforts", CCTV reported.

Sri Lanka owes at least US$5 billion (S$6.95 billion) to China, although some estimates put it at almost twice that amount.

India has also lent it US$3.8 billion and Japan is owed at least US$3.5 billion, according to the International Monetary Fund, with another US$1 billion due to other rich countries.

Mr Wickremesinghe has declared a state of emergency.

Security forces raided and partially cleared a protest camp occupying government grounds in Colombo on Friday, fuelling fears that Mr Wickremesinghe had launched a crackdown a day after being sworn in.

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