Dinesh Gunawardena is Sri Lanka’s new PM; security forces raid protest camp

Senior Sri Lankan lawmaker Dinesh Gunawardena was sworn in on Friday (Jul 22) as the new prime minister, his office said, a day after the swearing-in of a new president as the Indian Ocean nation grapples with its worst economic crisis in decades.

The event came just hours after security forces raided a protest camp on government grounds in the main city of Colombo and cleared part of it, with at least nine arrests, as the new administration moves to crack down on protesters.

A former minister from the Podujana Peramuna party, Gunawardena took the oath of office in the presence of Wickremesinghe, seated in front of uniformed military officers in a room packed with lawmakers and officials.

Gunawardena, 73, entered politics in 1980s through the nationalist Mahajana Eksath Peramuna party, before allying with the Rajapaksas' SLPP for the 2020 parliamentary election. He has been foreign minister, education minister, and most recently was minister of public administration and home affairs in Gotabaya Rajapaksa's government.

The rest of the cabinet is expected to be sworn in later on Friday.

Sri Lanka's crisis, the result of economic mismanagement and the fallout of conflict in Ukraine, sparked months of mass protests and eventually forced then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country.

Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency while seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Media footage showed soldiers in riot gear and armed with assault rifles tearing down the camp, set up in April by protesters enraged by the country's economic collapse and acute shortages of fuel, food and medicine.

Previous emergency regulations have been used to give powers to the military to arrest protesters and curtail the right to demonstrate.

The United States' Ambassador to Sri Lanka said she met the new president to express her "grave concern" over violence against protesters in Colombo early on Friday.

"This is not the time to crack down on citizens, but instead to look ahead at the immediate and tangible steps the government can take to regain the trust of the people, restore stability, and rebuild the economy," Julie Chung said in a tweet. REUTERS

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