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New Sri Lanka Prime Minister Warns of ‘Difficult’ Days Ahead

Police stand guard near the parliament building in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 17, 2022.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s newly installed prime minister, has warned the small South Asian nation that the next few months “will be the most difficult of our lives.”

During a nationally televised address Monday, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka needed $75 million within the next few days to buy essential supplies of fuel and medicine, but admitted the treasury was struggling to even find $1 million. He also said the country had just a single day of fuel left, and that daily electricity cuts could increase as much as 15 hours a day.

The South Asian island nation is struggling under the weight of heavy debt and declining foreign reserves that have created critical shortages of medicine, food and fuel that have led to several hours of power blackouts a day and led to rising fuel and transportation costs. The COVID-19 pandemic has also ground Sri Lanka’s vital tourism industry to a halt, dealing an additional blow to its economy.

Wickremesinghe said he would seek to privatize SriLankan Airlines and ask for foreign assistance to pay for critical fuel shipments that are anchored within its maritime zone.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa named Wickremesinghe as prime minister last week to succeed his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who stepped down from the post on May 9 as the political and economic crisis took a violent turn, when supporters of the Rajapaksa brothers attacked demonstrators who had gathered peacefully in the capital, Colombo, demanding their resignation.

Nine people were killed and more than 200 injured after several days of fighting between protesters and government.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse.