Sri Lanka leader appoints Cabinet, brother will lead finance

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s president on Friday appointed a 16-member interim Cabinet and allotted finance and other ministries to his brother, the new prime minister.

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected last week, also said he would call a parliamentary election as early as allowed. The parliamentary term ends next August, and the constitution allows the president to dissolve Parliament in March and go for an election.

He is now expected to secure a majority in the 225-member Parliament to run the administration. Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has the majority currently, but he stepped down Thursday to make way for Rajapaksa to form his own government.

Soon after Wickremesinghe quit, Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as prime minister.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was a powerful defense ministry secretary when his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was president, and both enjoy support from majority Sinhala Buddhists for ending the devastating civil war against the Tamil Tiger rebels, who sought a homeland for the Tamil minority.

In an address to his new Cabinet, the president sought their support to implement the policy pledges that brought him to power and urged them to fulfill the aspirations of the public who wanted political change.

Mahinda Rajapaksa will lead the ministries of finance, economic affairs, housing, urban development, water supply and Buddhist affairs.

Meanwhile a top investigator looking into allegations of abduction and extrajudicial killings during the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa has been transferred in what appears to be a demotion.

Shani Abeysekara, who was director of the Criminal Investigations Department, has been appointed personal assistant to a senior police officer, a police statement said Thursday.

Abeysekara was handling investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings and abductions of critical journalists, rebel suspects and civilians during the Mahinda Rajapaksa government.

A number of military personnel were detained for investigations in these cases and Rajapaksa supporters criticized the CID of victimizing war heroes. Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his election platform said that he will release all detained military personnel with a period of rehabilitation.

A court on Thursday discharged Gotabaya Rajapaksa from a corruption case because Sri Lanka’s constitution gives presidents immunity from lawsuits.