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Sri Lanka PM Wickremesinghe's reinstatement calms markets; Cabinet in focus

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A handout photo made available by Sri Lanka's President Media Division shows Sri Lankan president Maithreepala Sirisena (R) taditionaly greeting re-appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe (L) at the President Secretariat in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 16 December 2018.

[COLOMBO] The Sri Lankan rupee strengthened on Monday while bond yields dropped as a seven-week political crisis appeared to ebb after President Maithripala Sirisena reinstated the premier he had initially sacked in a widely criticised move.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was sworn into office on Sunday, held discussions with Mr Sirisena about forming a Cabinet and restoring stability in the island nation of 21 million people just off the southern coast of India.

Mr Wickremesinghe's reinstatement, which is expected to end a political crisis that began in late October when he was surprisingly sacked, is seen as an embarrassment for the president.

Yields on Sri Lanka's dollar bonds due in 2022, which had risen more than 1 per cent since the crisis started in October, fell 40 basis points to 7.6 per cent. The rupee edged up to 179.60 per dollar from Friday's close of 179.90/180.10.

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"The market has taken Wickremesinghe's appointment positively. But investors will have to wait and watch whether the president and prime minister will get along with each other," a currency dealer said, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to media.

Mr Sirisena had replaced Mr Wickremesinghe with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa following differences over policy matters and other issues. However, Mr Rajapaksa failed to win a parliamentary majority and resigned on Saturday as a government shutdown loomed.

Mr Sirisena had repeatedly said he would not reappoint Mr Wickremesinghe as prime minister. However, he had to change his stance to gain parliamentary approval for a temporary budget that is required by Jan 1.

Preparations for a vote on account will begin as soon as Mr Wickremesinghe names a finance minister, treasury secretary SR Attygala said.

The vote on account has become mandatory after parliament approval for the budget for 2019 (Jan-Dec) was derailed following Mr Wickremesinghe's ouster in October.

Sri Lanka's stock market index held steady at 0800 GMT, while analysts said cautious investors were buying risky assets before the Cabinet appointments are announced.

REUTERS