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Not the right time for former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to return to Sri Lanka – President

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Sri Lanka’s new president Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Sunday it was not the right time for former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to return to the country as it could inflame political tensions, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“I don’t believe it’s the time for him to return,” Wickremesinghe said in an interview with the Journal. “I have no indication of him returning soon.”

Wickremesinghe has remained in contact with Rajapaksa to deal with administrative handover issues and other government business, the report said.

Sri Lankan masses hold Rajapaksas guilty of economic mismanagement which they claim have led to the collapse of the Sri Lankan economy.

The Rajapaksas fled to Maldives on July 13 and then flew to Singapore where Gotabaya Rajapaksa has extended his short-stay visa allowing him to stay until August 11.

Wickremesinghe said he is in touch with Gotabaya Rajapaksa to deal with administrative handover issues and other government business, the Wall Street Journal said.

Speculations regarding his return rose after Sri Lanka’s cabinet spokesman Bandula Gunawardena last week said Gotabaya wishes to return to Sri Lanka.

‘LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL’

Wickremesinghe told the Wall Street Journal that the island-nation has experienced the worst of its economic crisis.

“I think we’ve already hit the bottom,” Ranil said, while adding that the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is now visible and what matters is how fast Sri Lanka gets there.

He, however, was quick to point out that it will be months before Sri Lankans see their economic circumstances improve.

Wickremesinghe has now shifted his operations to the President’s Residence in Colombo which protesters took over on July 13 as a mark of the protest against the Rajapaksa-led government.

The president said that discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are ongoing and a staff-level agreement would be reached by the end of August. Following that Sri Lanka will be able to hold talks with sovereign bondholders and bilateral creditors.

However, a preliminary agreement would require IMF board approval for funds disbursement – which is a process that could take months.

The crisis-hit country has been in talks with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout package. In April, Sri Lanka had suspended repayments on about $12 billion of foreign debt and has payments of nearly $21 billion due by the end of 2025.

Wickremesinghe expected the IMF staff-level agreement to be reached by the end of August, the report said, adding that Sri Lanka will have to secure upwards of $3 billion from other sources next year to support essential imports including fuel, food and fertilisers.

He also told the newspaper it would be months before Sri Lankans would see any marked improvement in their economic circumstances.

–Agencies

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