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Sri Lanka secures Indian lifeline as IMF signals help

COLOMBO (AFP) – Cash-strapped Sri Lanka has secured a billion-dollar credit line from India to buy urgently needed food and medicine, officials said yesterday, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) confirmed it would discuss a possible bailout.

The South Asian nation is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, with crippling shortages of essentials and fears it will default on its foreign debt or ask bondholders to take a “haircut” on repayments.

India and Sri Lanka formally entered into the credit agreement on Thursday during Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s visit to New Delhi, Treasury Secretary Sajith Attygalle told reporters in Colombo.

“India stands with Sri Lanka,” Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar said on Twitter. “USD1 billion credit line signed for supply of essential commodities.”

The latest loan was on top of another USD500-million Indian credit line to help its island neighbour buy oil. Meanwhile, the IMF yesterday confirmed it was considering President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s surprise Wednesday request to discuss a bailout.

Socialist Youth Union members scuffle with police as they attempt to enter the president’s office during a protest against the worst economic crisis in memory in Colombo, Sri Lanka. PHOTO: AP

“We will discuss with the authorities how best we can assist Sri Lanka going forward,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said in a statement to reporters in the capital.

Rajapaksa’s announcement that he would go to the IMF – a U-turn from his previous position – increases the likelihood that Sri Lanka will seek to renegotiate some of its estimated USD51 billion in foreign debts.

Rice said the IMF had already highlighted the urgent need for Sri Lanka to implement a “credible and coherent strategy to restore macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability.”

Around USD6.9 billion of Colombo’s debt needs to be serviced this year. Its foreign currency reserves stood at about USD2.3 billion at the end of February.

Sri Lanka earlier this year asked one of its main creditors, China, to help put off debt payments, but there has been no official response yet from Beijing.