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Sri Lanka’s new president takes office

Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe has been sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new president to take charge of a nation bitterly angry he will remain in power amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

Sri Lankans have taken to the streets for months to demand their top leaders step down to take responsibility for economic chaos that has left the nation’s 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials, including medicine, fuel and food.

While protesters have focused on the Rajapaksa political dynasty, Wickremesinghe also has drawn their ire as a perceived Rajapaksa surrogate.

The six-time prime minister had never held the top job. But he easily won the secret ballot of lawmakers on Wednesday to finish the term of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country after protesters stormed his residence last week and resigned.

Wickremesinghe, 73, has wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs and has been overseeing the bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Lawmakers apparently considered him the safer hands to lead the nation through the crisis, despite public anger at Wickremesinghe as an example of the nation’s problematic political establishment. During demonstrations last week, crowds set his personal residence on fire and occupied his office.

After Wednesday’s vote, Wickremesinghe called for politicians to work together and pleaded for the country to move on. But protesters flocked to the presidential residence instead, chanting, “Ranil, go home.”

Wickremesinghe took his oath of office on Thursday morning before Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya at a ceremony held in parliament in the capital, Colombo. He now can choose a new prime minister.

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