Socialist Prime Minister Begins Task of Rebuilding Sri Lanka
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Socialist Chandrika Kumaratunga was sworn in today as prime minister and immediately began the daunting task of ending a guerrilla war that has killed 34,000 people.
Mrs. Kumaratunga created a ministry of ethnic affairs to initiate a settlement with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Earlier, the rebels issued a statement in London welcoming her offer for negotiations.
″We are very happy that she is willing to talk to us. We are also willing,″ rebel spokesman Anton Raja said. The country’s 3 million Tamils have been fighting for independence from the Sinhalese majority since 1983.
Mrs. Kumaratunga, 49, was tapped to become prime minister after her Peoples’ Alliance became the first opposition party in 17 years to defeat the United National Party in a parliamentary election.
But her coalition government has only a slim majority in Parliament, which could make it difficult for her to fulfill a campaign goal of brokering a peace accord with the rebels.
The United National party, which retains the presidency, had refused to talk with the guerrillas. The Alliance has pledged to remove some of the powers of the president.
Alliance supporters danced and hugged each other in front of Mrs. Kumaratunga’s home as a motorcade took her to the presidential palace, where she was sworn in by President Dingiri Banda Wijetunga.
The United National Party oversaw a booming free-market economy but also was blamed for rampant corruption, human rights abuses and failure to end the insurrection.
Mrs. Kumaratunga’s alliance fell eight seat shorts of a parliamentary majority but other opposition parties promised to join her government.
She has promised to ″pursue free market reforms with a human touch,″ educate more women and children, fight corruption, reduce the powers of the president and make parliament the most powerful institution.
The new government of 22 Cabinet ministers includes her mother, former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, 72, who was likely to oppose Wijetunga in a presidential election in November.
Mrs. Kumaratunga’s father, Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, served as prime minister from 1956 until 1959, when he was assassinated by a dissident Buddhist monk. Her mother served as prime minister twice, from 1960 to 1965 and 1970 to 1977.
Mrs. Kumaratunga also helped her husband, Vijaya Kumaratanga, campaign for a seat in Parliament. He was assassinated by Sinhalese radicals in 1988.
Tens of thousands of residents lined up along the streets of Colombo to cheer the prime minister or went shopping after police and soldiers dismantled roadblocks and lifted a round-the-clock curfew imposed after Tuesday’s election.
A nighttime curfew was to continue indefinitely to prevent more violence. During the month-long campaign, 24 people died and hundreds were wounded.