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Sunday, 9 December, 2001, 15:20 GMT
Sri Lanka's new PM sworn in
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Chandrika Kumaratunga
There have been calls for the two leaders to co-operate
Ranil Wickramasinghe has taken office as Sri Lanka's new prime minister after his opposition United National Party swept to victory in parliamentary elections last week.


I want to forget the past and look to the future

Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe
Mr Wickramasinghe was sworn in by his arch-rival, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, whose People's Alliance (PA) suffered a sharp setback in Wednesday's vote.

The new prime minister said he plans to hold discussions with other political parties on forming a government of national unity.

"We have some very serious problems facing the country. We can overcome them and go forward," Mr Wickramasinghe said.


His emergence as prime minister marks the start of a potentially uncomfortable period of cohabitation between a powerful president and a hostile parliament.

The swearing-in ceremony was not shown on state television, which is controlled by the president.

And a television station owned by Mr Wickramasinghe's brother was reportedly banned from entering the president's residence to film the event.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, a personal friend of Mr Wickramasinghe, was one of the first leaders to congratulate the new prime minister on Sunday.

Pledges for peace

Despite winning the biggest number of seats, Mr Wickramasinghe's UNP has had to form an alliance with the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress to ensure a majority in the house.

Correspondents say he is also expected to receive the backing of the Tamil parties, who are hoping he will launch a new round of negotiations with rebels fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east.

Pledges to find a peaceful political settlement for the ethnic conflict, which has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972, formed a key part of Mr Wickremesinghe's election campaign.

President Kumaratunga has preferred to pursue an aggressive military solution to the ongoing civil war.

Although the PA has become the weakest opposition party in the country's recent history, President Kumaratunga will continue to wield substantial powers - including the right to name a cabinet and even suspend parliament.

Bloody election

Mr Wickremesinghe, who has previously served briefly as prime minister, made history by winning the largest number of preferential votes ever - more than 400,000 in his constituency.

Funerals
The vote was marred by violence and intimidation

But the vote itself was marred by violence and allegations of corruption.

Police have now lifted a curfew that was imposed after Wednesday's election - one of the most violent in Sri Lanka's history.

Crowds rioted in the central town of Kandy in protest against the deaths of 10 Muslims on polling day.

The army also prevented tens of thousands of minority Tamil voters from travelling out of rebel-controlled areas to cast their votes.

At least 60 people died during the campaign and on election day.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Colombo University Law lecturer, Rohan Edirisinghe
"The constitution does permit (President Chandrika Kumaratunga) to assign herself as many portfolios as she likes"

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See also:

05 Dec 01 | South Asia
Violence mars Sri Lanka poll
23 Nov 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's Marxist leader ends exile
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka poll violence 'doubles'
09 Oct 00 | South Asia
Profile: Ranil Wickramasinghe
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