Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appoints interim Cabinet, brothers take major portfolios

Colombo: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday appointed a 16-member interim Cabinet, including two of his brothers, and gave the major portfolios of defence, finance and trade to them while inducting two Tamils as a sign of reaching out to the minority community.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, 74, got the key portfolios of defence and finance while the President's eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa, 77, got trade and food security ministries.

"This is an interim government," Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who took over as the country's President on Monday, said during the swearing-in ceremony of the ministers.

He said the ministers of state would be appointed next week.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the President cannot hold ministries although he is the head of the Cabinet.

The Tamil minority members came from the Tamil dominated north and from the central tea plantations areas of Tamils of Indian origin.

Dinesh Gunawardena, 70, a veteran Marxist politician has been named as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, 74, was appointed as the country's prime minister on Thursday after incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe formally tendered his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The Cabinet appointment is seen as interim until the President dissolves the current parliament and go for a fresh parliamentary election.

The next parliamentary poll is scheduled only after August 2020.

Soon after he was sworn in as the president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa thanked the powerful Buddhist clergy for backing his presidential bid and vowed to protect all communities, while giving foremost priority to Buddhism. He also thanked the Sinhala-majority people for electing him.

"I knew I would win the presidency with support coming only from the Sinhala majority. I told the minorities to join me. I did not receive their support. But I will make sure that I will be president for everyone," he said.

Muslims make up nearly 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's over 21 million people, who are predominantly Sinhalese Buddhists. About 12 per cent of the population are Hindus, mostly from the ethnic Tamil minority. Some seven per cent of the population are Christians.

There are already concerns in the country that Gotabaya Rajapaksa's remarks may have led to apprehensions among the minority communities, who are already worried about the possibility of the return of an iron-fist rule under the Rajapaksa-duo's regime.

The two brothers, Mahinda and Gotabaya, led a decisive campaign that helped end the island nation's three decade long civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).