Sri Lankan parliament reconvenes as PM warns of critical shortages | Political news

Parliament is meeting for the first time since last week’s violence that saw Mahinda Rajapaksa resign as prime minister.

Sri Lanka’s parliament convened for the first time since violence erupted last week and the prime minister resigned, a day after the new prime minister warned the country was in a precarious economic situation and until its last day of gas supply.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the new prime minister, said in a televised address on Monday that the island nation was facing “unpleasant and terrifying facts”.

“At the moment, we only have one day’s supply of gasoline. The next two months will be the most difficult of our lives,” he said.

Foreign exchange reserves were close to zero, falling from $7.5 billion in November 2019, with the country needing $75 million in the coming days to keep the economy running, he added. Essential drugs had run out.

People line up to buy gasoline at a gas station in Colombo [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Power cuts could extend up to 15 hours a day due to lack of fuel, which is mainly imported.

Wickremesinghe said he planned to seek foreign aid, privatize SriLankan Airlines and seek parliamentary approval to increase the issuance of treasury bills to 4 trillion rupees ($11.27 billion) from 3 000 billion.

“For a short time, our future will be even more difficult than the difficult times we have had,” he said.

More than a month of mostly peaceful protests against the government’s handling of the economy turned deadly last week when supporters of former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stormed an anti-government protest site in the commercial capital , Colombo.

The days of clashes that followed between protesters, government supporters and police left nine people dead and more than 300 injured.

Rajapaksa then resigned, leaving his younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa to rule as president.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, unprecedented since its independence in 1948, arose from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the Rajapaksas.

The chronic shortage of foreign currency has led to runaway inflation and shortages of medicine, fuel and other essentials, sending thousands to the streets in protest.

Wickremesinghe’s four cabinet appointments so far have all been made by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party of Rajapaksas, much to the dismay of protesters, who want to exile the family from national politics.

He has yet to announce key portfolios, including the crucial position of finance minister, who will negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance.

Former finance minister Ali Sabry had held preliminary talks with the multilateral lender, but he resigned along with Mahinda Rajapaksa last week.

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