Reacting publicly for the first time after anti-government protesters torched his private home on Saturday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Monday that only people with a “Hitler-like mentality” set buildings on fire.
In a special televised statement, Wickremesinghe said he accepted the prime ministerial post because the economy was in disarray.
Wickremesinghe, 73, said he took on the difficult task of rebuilding the economy at a time when the public was struggling without fuel, cooking gas and electricity.
The cost of living was high, there was no fuel, there was a currency crisis. People were losing jobs. I saw the suffering of the people,” she said.
He said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has indicated that it would take about four years to stabilize the economy, the first year being the worst.
This cannot be done in 1-2 days, it would take at least a year to take the first corrective steps. The IMF said it would take four years, he said.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May after his older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was forced to resign amid mounting pressure on the government over mismanagement of the economy.
Commenting on the fire set by protesters at his home on Saturday, he said only people with a “Hitler-like mentality” set buildings on fire, saying there was a “background event” leading up to what happened that night.
He said a miscommunication via a tweet from the leader of a Muslim party that he had opposed forming an all-party government and refused to step down triggered the arson attack at his home.
Although he corrected him by saying that he was ready to resign after the formation of an all-party government, a TV station incited the public to surround his house. He had appealed to the television station not to instigate the protesters to attack his house.
He said he postponed all meetings held on July 9 and stayed at home, and was later asked by police to leave the house because there was a possibility of riots. Because of this, the Prime Minister stated that he and his wife left home at night.
Wickremesinghe said that this house was his only one in Sri Lanka and abroad, and now it has burned down.
My only house was burned down. I had 2,500 books in my library, my only asset. There were valuable paintings over 200 years old. All destroyed,” he said.
He said that he had agreed with his wife to donate all the valuable books collected over time to a university in Sri Lanka and to another international organization.
A group of angry protesters entered Wickremesinghe’s private residence on Cambridge Place on Saturday night and set it on fire, causing extensive property damage. The incident came hours after Wickremesinghe offered to resign from him to make way for an all-party government.
The arson attack took place after hundreds of anti-government protesters stormed the president’s residence in the high-security Fort area in central Colombo after breaking through barricades, while demanding his resignation over the island’s worst economic crisis in recent history.
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is in the grip of unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute foreign exchange shortage that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel and other items. essential. .
The country, with an acute currency crisis that resulted in the non-payment of foreign debt, had announced in April that it would suspend the payment of almost USD 7 billion of foreign debt due this year of around USD 25 billion due. until 2026.
Sri Lanka’s total external debt amounts to USD 51 billion.
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