Sri Lankan leader says IMF deal pushed back after unrest

Colombia, Sri Lanka –

Sri Lanka’s president said on Saturday that a deal with the International Monetary Fund to help pull the bankrupt country out of its economic crisis has been pushed back to September due to the unrest of recent weeks.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his first speech since being elected by parliament on July 20, said that although he as prime minister had aimed to reach a deal by early August, it has now been pushed back from ‘a month.

Wickremesinghe was elected to complete the five-year term of his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled to Singapore after protesters angry over economic hardship stormed his official residence and occupied several key government buildings.

Wickremesinghe said discussions with the IMF on a bailout had not moved since the incidents.

Sri Lanka announced in April that it was suspending foreign loan repayments due to a severe shortage of foreign currency. The island nation owes $51 billion in foreign debt, of which $28 billion must be paid by 2027.

The currency crisis has led to a shortage of many essential imported items such as fuel, medicine and cooking gas.

Wickremesinghe wrote to 225 parliament lawmakers on Friday to join him in a multi-party government to tackle the crisis. He reiterated the call on Saturday saying blaming the old rulers will not solve the problem but everyone should come together to stop the country from falling apart further.

Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister and veteran politician, is unpopular because he is backed by majority lawmakers backed by the powerful Rajapaksa family, which has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades. Many accuse Wickremesinghe of protecting the Rajapaksas, who are widely blamed for the corruption and mismanagement that led to the crisis.

Wickremesinghe authorized the military to dismantle protest camps that had been set up near the president’s office for more than 100 days. Several people, including protest leaders, were arrested during the crackdown.

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