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Sri Lanka’s newly-elected president sworn in

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) – Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new president yesterday to take charge of a nation bitterly angry he will remain in power amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

Sri Lankans have taken to the streets for months to demand their top leaders step down to take responsibility for economic chaos that has left the nation’s 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials, including medicine, fuel and food.

While the protesters have focussed on the Rajapaksa political dynasty, Wickremesinghe also has drawn their ire as a perceived Rajapaksa surrogate.

The six-time prime minister had never held the top job. But he easily won the secret ballot of lawmakers on Wednesday to finish the term of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country after protesters stormed his residence last week and resigned.

His appointment received mixed reactions, with some supporters lighting firecrackers while protesters continued to demand that he resign.

Wickremesinghe, 73, has wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs and has been overseeing bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund. He won the support of 134 members in the 225-member Parliament.

Police outside the official residence of the president the day after Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected. PHOTOS: AP
Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe

Lawmakers apparently considered him the safer hands to lead the nation through the crisis, despite public anger at Wickremesinghe as an example of the nation’s problematic political establishment.

During demonstrations last week, crowds set his personal residence on fire and occupied his office.

After Wednesday’s vote, Wickremesinghe called for politicians to work together and pleaded for the country to move on. But protesters flocked to the presidential office instead, chanting, “Ranil, go home!” Protest leaders told reporters on Wednesday they don’t accept Wickremesinghe’s appointment and urged him to step down immediately.

Wickremesinghe took his oath as the country’s 8th executive president yesterday morning before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya at a ceremony held in Parliament in the capital, Colombo.

In an example of the troubles caused by the economic crisis, a power outage hampered live coverage of the swearing-in ceremony at Parliament.