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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 12:05 GMT
Profile: Ranil Wickramasinghe
Ranil Wickremesinghe has his sights set on the presidency
Ranil Wickramasinghe: Hoping to get his chance
Ranil Wickramasinghe who became Sri Lanka's Prime Minister last month, has pledged to pursue efforts to start peace talks to end the country's long-running ethnic conflict.

He first became known as the nephew of Sri Lanka's first executive president, Junius Jayewardene.

A lawyer by profession, Mr Wickramasinghe comes from an affluent family.

He was first elected to parliament in 1977 and quickly moved up the party ladder after Ranasinghe Pramadasa was elected President in 1989.

He was made the minister of industries and leader of the house, and then went on to be prime minister for 16 months until Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance coalition came to power in 1994.

Rose to prominence under President Premadasa
Rose to prominence under President Premadasa
In the same year, he became the leader of the United National Party when Gamini Dissanayake was killed by suspected rebels of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Mr Wickramasinghe improved his party's image by appointing a disciplinary commission to get rid of corrupt party members.

He also tried to change his personal image with various different haircuts to give himself a more appealing look and he tried to broaden the UNP's public support by touring many villages.

But the threat of Tamil violence has dogged Mr Wickramasinghe like his predecessors.

He narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when a bomb went off at a meeting he was addressing in the town of Eppawala.

Two previous UNP leaders, Mr Premadasa and Mr Dissanayake, were both killed by suspected Tamil Tiger rebels.

Promises

Mr Wickramasinghe lost in the presidential elections in December 1999 in what observers said was a sympathy vote for President Kumaratunga after she was injured in a bomb attack.

He had been determined to make the most of that opportunity to defeat the ruling People's Alliance.

He had criticised their conduct of the war, and accused them of harming the economy.

In his 2001 election campaign, he pledged to curb presidential powers.

Took over the UNP when Gamini Dissanayake was killed
Took over the UNP when Gamini Dissanayake was killed
On the economic front, Mr Wickramasinghe has said he is committed to reviving the economy and he hoped to double the economic growth rate.

He is credited for pushing the country through an impressive economic transformation during his first tenure as prime minister, and is generally backed by the business community.

Mr Wickramasinghe was also seen as a co-operative opposition leader who gave the last government a chance to carry out its agenda in its early days.

He later took a more hardline stance and refused to back the government's proposed devolution package in a bid end the civil war.


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See also:

04 Nov 99 | South Asia
Timeline of the Tamil conflict
04 Aug 99 | South Asia
Sri Lanka: Searching for a solution
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