Sri Lanka eases curfew as new PM seeks to form cabinet
© Reuters/DINUKA LIYANAWATTE Sri Lanka president warns of racial tensions amid economic crisis

By Uditha Jayasinghe and Alasdair Pal

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka lifted a nationwide curfew for 12 hours on Saturday, further easing tight curbs as new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe sought to form a government after clashes with anti-government groups killed nine people.

More than a month of predominantly peaceful protests against the government turned violent this week after supporters of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stormed an anti-government protest camp in the commercial capital Colombo, burning tents and clashing with protesters.

The initial clashes and reprisals against government figures also left more than 300 injured.

The government lifted the curfew from 6 a.m. (0030 GMT) on Saturday until 6 p.m. A 24-hour curfew imposed on Monday had been lifted for a few hours on Thursday and Friday to allow purchase of essential supplies.

Rajapaksa stepped down after violence flared on Monday, leaving his younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa to rule on as president.

Hit hard by the pandemic, rising oil prices and tax cuts by the populist government, Sri Lanka is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since independence from Great Britain in 1948.

Useable foreign reserves have dwindled, and rampant inflation and shortages of fuel have brought thousands onto the streets in protest.

Wickremesinghe, a five-time prime minister, was appointed to another term late on Thursday. The 73-year-old was expected to begin appointing ministers before parliament reconvenes on Tuesday.

Wickremesinghe is the sole lawmaker from his United National Party to hold a seat in parliament, and will be reliant on other parties to form a coalition government. The Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna has pledged to support Wickremesinghe.

The main opposition has ruled out supporting him, but several smaller parties have said they would back policies by the new prime minister to stabilise the economy.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Uditha Jayasinghe in Colombo; Editing by William Mallard)

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