nder fire Sri Lanka president appoints new cabinet

Beleaguered Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed a 17-member cabinet even as protests calling for him to resign grow larger.

Mr Rajapaksa had initially dismissed his cabinet of ministers and had called on opposition parties to help form a new government. But they had refused.

He has now re-appointed a number of his party members to several posts.

The island nation is grappling with its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

It is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that Sri Lanka cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.

With power cuts lasting half a day or more, and shortages of food, medicines and fuel, public anger reached a new high.

Last week, the country also said it would temporarily default on its foreign debts. A payment on some of those bond debts are due today.

The stock exchange has also been suspended for a week starting Monday.

Mass protests began in early April with people calling for President Rajapaksa to resign, which he has refused to do despite opposition arguments that he has lost the people’s mandate.

His appointment of a new cabinet appears to be another sign that he will not bend to protesters demands.

It also comes hours after some media outlets sympathetic to his government called peaceful protests in Colombo’s Galle Face Green – which have attracted thousands of people – a beach party, and implied that they were funded by terror organisations.

Earlier, as the protests began, Mr Rajapaksa activated a draconian emergency law and imposed curfew to try and stop protests and also banned social media.

He later withdrew these measures as protests continued.

Both he and his brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have tried to address the nation and placate protesters, but the calls for him to resign have only grown louder.

The demonstrations mark a massive turnaround in popularity for Mr Rajapaksa who swept into power with a thumping majority win in 2019, promising stability and a “strong hand” to rule the country.

Critics have been pointing to rank corruption and nepotism – his brothers and nephews occupied several key ministerial portfolios including the prime ministerial portfolio – as one of the main reasons for the situation the country has found itself in.

Opulent displays of wealth by family members, have only increased anger.