By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI, Associated Press
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s president appointed a new 17-member cabinet on Monday as he and his powerful family seek to resolve a political crisis stemming from the country’s dire economic situation.
The appointments follow weeks of protests over fuel and food shortages and demand the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government.
The president’s older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, remains, but other relatives have been let go in what has been seen as an attempt to pacify protesters without giving up the family’s grip on power.
Many senior citizens and those subject to corruption allegations have been barred from Cabinet in line with calls for a younger administration.
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The Cabinet resigned on April 3 after protests erupted across the country and protesters stormed and vandalized the homes of some Cabinet ministers.
Thousands of protesters occupied the entrance to the president’s office for a 10th day on Monday.
Opposition parties rejected an invitation from Rajapaksa to form a coalition unity government while he and his brother would remain in power. Meanwhile, the opposition parties failed to secure a parliamentary majority.
Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy, with almost $7 billion of its total external debt of $25 billion due to be repaid this year. A severe shortage of foreign exchange means that the country lacks money to buy imported goods.
People have endured months of shortages of essentials like food, cooking gas, fuel and medicine, queuing for hours to buy the very limited supplies available.
Last week, the government announced it was suspending foreign loan repayments pending talks with the International Monetary Fund. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Ali Sabry and officials left for talks with the IMF on Sunday. The IMF and World Bank are holding annual meetings in Washington this week.
Sri Lanka has turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.
Much of the public anger has been directed at Rajapaksa and his older brother, the prime minister. They lead an influential clan that has held power for most of the past two decades.
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