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Sri Lanka’s new prime minister will start forming a unity government today, but his nomination has failed to appease anti-government protesters calling for the president’s resignation as a result of the country’s disastrous economic crisis. After a week of violent clashes that left 9 people dead and over 300 injured, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa named veteran opposition politician Ranil Wickremesinghe as the island nation’s prime minister late on Thursday.
As the violence escalated, the president’s elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister on Monday and is now hiding in a military base.
“We will stop fighting when our people get justice,” said Chamalage Shivakumar, one of the hundreds of protesters camped out in Colombo’s main city.
“We will not stop fighting until people get relief, no matter who they appoint as prime minister.”
PM Wickremesinghe is the country’s only lawmaker from his United National Party and will have to rely on rival political parties to form a government. An alliance led by Rajapaksa controls approximately 100 of parliament’s 225 seats, while the opposition controls 58. The rest are self-contained.
Protesters said PM Wickremesinghe’s appointment would do little to alleviate their rage at the president, whom they blame for the country’s worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948.
Sri Lanka is critically low on foreign exchange as a result of the pandemic, rising oil prices, and populist tax cuts by the Gotabaya brothers, and rampant inflation and fuel shortages have brought thousands to the streets in a month of mostly peaceful protests until this week.