Sri Lanka: Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe says previous government ‘hid facts’ about financial crisis

former leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa the government did not tell the truth that Sri Lanka was “bankrupt” and “should apply to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)”, Wickremesinghe of Parliament in the country’s administrative capital, Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, told CNN on Monday.

“I would like to tell people I know what they are suffering from,” he added. “We’ve gone backwards. We have to pull up on our boots. We don’t need five years or 10 years. By the end of next year, let’s start to stabilize, and of course by 2024 we will have a functioning economy that will start to grow. .”

Wickremesinghe’s exclusive CNN interview was his first interview with an international news organization since he was named acting president by the former Rajapaksa leader, who fled the crisis-hit country last week.

Wickremesinghe added that he had been talking to Rajapakse since he first fled Sri Lanka for the Maldives and then went to Singapore. However, Wickremesinghe said he did not know if the former leader was still in Singapore or elsewhere.

Wickremesinghe is now vying to be Sri Lanka’s next president, with parliament due to elect a new leader on Wednesday.

The former six-time prime minister, who is backed by Sri Lanka’s ruling political party, Podujana Peramuna, will face at least three other candidates.

But Wickremesinghe’s nomination threatens to exacerbate an already fragile situation in the South Asian nation of 22 million.

Since March, Sri Lanka has been brought to its knees by a growing economic crisis that has left the country struggling to buy essential imports, including fuel, food and medicine.

Protesters took to the streets to demand the resignation of the country’s leaders and appeared to have triumphed last week when Rajapaksa promised to step down and then fled the country after thousands of demonstrators stormed his residence and some took a dip in his pool. . Soon after, angry protesters set fire to the private residence of Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe, the prime minister before Rajapaksa stepped down, promised to step down to make way for a unity government.

He told CNN that his burned down house and most of its contents are beyond repair.

According to Wickremesinghe, he lost over 4,000 books, including several hundred years old. He also added that a 125-year-old piano burned down as a result of the fire.

But despite this, on Monday he reiterated his desire to compete for the top job, telling CNN he is “not the right administration.”

“I’m not the same anymore, people know that,” he said. “I came here to do economics.”

When asked why he wants to become president and make himself another potential target, Wickremesinghe said: “I don’t want this to happen in the country. What happened to me, I don’t want others to suffer… Of course I don’t want to.” I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

Meanwhile, life remains chaotic for the people of Sri Lanka as they navigate the country’s paralyzing crisis.

People continue to queue for hours and even days at gas stations, desperately hoping to buy fuel. Many local businesses are closed and supermarket shelves empty.

As anger continues to mount, Wickremesingh said people can protest “peacefully”.

“Do not interfere with the parliamentarians and parliament to fulfill their duties,” he said.

Wickremesinghe declared a nationwide state of emergency from Monday to quell any possible social unrest ahead of the 20 July presidential parliamentary elections.

“We are trying to prevent (the police and the military) from using guns,” Wickremesinghe said. “They were attacked several times, but we still told them that they should try their best not to use weapons.”

But Wickremesinghe said he could “understand what (the people of Sri Lanka) are going through.”

“I told them that there were three bad weeks… And the whole system failed,” he said. “We had neither gas nor diesel fuel. It was bad.”

Wickremesinghe said he would not allow protesters to obstruct the vote in Parliament on Wednesday or allow new buildings to be stormed.

“There must be law and order in the country,” he said.

Hannah Ritchie and Wayne Chung of CNN contributed to the story.

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