Sri Lanka eases curfew as new PM seeks to form Cabinet

Sri Lanka's new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is the only member of his party to hold a seat in Parliament. PHOTO: REUTERS

COLOMBO (REUTERS) - Sri Lanka lifted a nationwide curfew for 12 hours on Saturday (May 14), further easing tight curbs as new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe sought to form a government after clashes with anti-government groups killed nine people.

More than a month of predominantly peaceful protests against the government turned violent this week after supporters of former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stormed an anti-government protest camp in the commercial capital Colombo, burning tents and clashing with protesters.

The initial clashes and reprisals against government figures also left more than 300 injured.

Hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, rising oil prices and tax cuts by the populist government, Sri Lanka is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

Usable foreign reserves have dwindled, and rampant inflation and shortages of fuel have brought thousands onto the streets in protest.

The government lifted the curfew from 6am (8.30am Singapore time) on Saturday until 6pm. A 24-hour curfew imposed last Monday had been lifted for a few hours last Thursday and Friday to allow purchase of essential supplies.

Mr Rajapaksa stepped down after violence flared last Monday, leaving his younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa to rule on as President.

Mr Wickremesinghe, a five-time prime minister, was appointed to another term late last Thursday. 

He appointed four ministers from the Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a decision unlikely to satisfy the protesters demanding the removal of the party from power.

The appointments, announced by the president’s office, include Mr G.L. Pereis, the SLPP chairman who had held the post before resigning on Monday.

Mr Wickremesinghe is the sole lawmaker from his United National Party to hold a seat in Parliament, and is reliant on other parties to form a coalition government. The SLPP has pledged to support him.

The main opposition has ruled out supporting him, but several smaller parties have said they would back policies by the new prime minister to stabilise the economy.

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