Sri Lanka swears Dinesh Gunawardena in as new prime minister

Dinesh Gunawardena has been sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new prime minister, just hours after soldiers and police cleared an anti-government protest site in Colombo.

Gunawardena, a veteran member of the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Front and an ally of the Rajapaksa political family, took the oath of office on Friday before President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was elevated to head of state from his role as prime minister by a vote in parliament on Wednesday.

The two men have been schoolmates and friends since the age of three but lead political parties that are diametrically opposed ideologically.

Wickremesinghe, 73, is a free-market champion and a pro-West politician while Gunawardena, 73, is a staunch Sinhala nationalist who believes in socialism and wants greater state control over the economy.

The cabinet is scheduled to be sworn in later on Friday. Heavy security was deployed outside the prime minister’s office during the swearing-in ceremony.

“Gunawardena was part of the ruling Rajapaska coalition, so no new face in Sri Lankan politics whatsoever,” said Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from Colombo.

There has also been no evidence of the president’s promise to bring new faces and to combine the ruling party with the opposition to create some kind of national unity government, she added.

Sri Lankans have taken to the streets for months demanding their leaders resign over an economic crisis that has left the island nation’s 22 million people short of essential items such as medicine, food and fuel.

The protests forced out former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week. His family has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the last 20 years but public outrage over the economic crisis forced several family members to leave ministry posts earlier in the crisis. Gunawardena’s appointment came several hours after security forces made several arrests and cleared a protest camp near the presidential palace in Colombo, where demonstrators have gathered for the past 104 days.