Colombo: Newly elected Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday thanked India which he said under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has provided the crisis-hit island nation "a breath of life" in tough times.

President Wickremesinghe made the remarks while presenting the government's policy statement during the third session of Parliament during which he invited political parties to form an all-party government.

"I wish to specially mention the assistance provided by India, our closest neighbour, in our efforts of economic revitalisation. The Government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given us a breath of life. On behalf of my people and that of my own, I convey the gratitude to Prime Minister Modi, the government and the people of India," said Wickremesinghe in his address.

The Sri Lankan Parliament met for the first session under President Wickremesinghe after he was sworn in on July 21. Wickremesinghe in his address reiterated the formation of an all-party government to help the country tide over its economic crisis.

He said that Parliament must be united and not divided to address the current crisis and added that some political parties have already expressed interest to join the all-party, according to Colombo Gazette, which published Wirckremsinghe's full speech.

"An All-Party Government is not a government that acts on the sole opinion of one party. It is a government that comprises the views of all parties within a common policy framework, and implemented after decisions are made.

I wish to reiterate to this House, the importance of an All-Party Government in order to resolve this crisis and establish stability in an expeditious manner," the Sri Lankan President said.

He said that they are preparing a National Economic Policy for the next 25 years, which "lays the foundation for a social market economic system, securing development for the poor and underprivileged groups and encouraging small and medium entrepreneurs."

Since the beginning of 2022, Sri Lanka has experienced an escalating economic crisis and the government has defaulted on its foreign loans. The United Nations warned that 5.7 million people "require immediate humanitarian assistance."

With many Sri Lankans experiencing extreme shortages of essentials including food and fuel, peaceful protests began in March. The protests led then-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign on May 9, and his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to flee the country on July 13 and resign the following day.

Wickremasinghe became acting president, and parliament elected him as the new president on July 20 with the support of the Rajapaksas' political party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. Meanwhile, India under its 'Neighbourhood First' policy, has always come forward to help the debt-ridden island country. Recently, India has extended 8 Lines of Credit (LOCs) to Sri Lanka amounting to USD 1,850.64 million in the past 10 years.

"Government of India has extended 8 Lines of Credit (LOCs) to Sri Lanka amounting to USD 1,850.64 million in sectors including railways, infrastructure, defence, renewable energy, petroleum and fertilizers in the past 10 years," External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in a written reply to question put by DMK Lok Sabha MP S Ramalingam. "In January 2022, India extended a USD 400 million currency swap to Sri Lanka under the SAARC Framework and deferred successive Asian Clearing Union (A.C.U.) settlements till July 6, 2022. A Line of Credit of US$ 500 million was extended to Sri Lanka for importing fuel from India," the minister added.

More than 25 tons of drugs and medical supplies which were donated by the government and people of India during the last two months are valued at close to SLR 370 million. This is in addition to the economic assistance of around USD 3.5 billion and supply of other humanitarian supplies such as rice, milk powder, and kerosene.

These humanitarian supplies are in continuation of the government of India's ongoing support to the people of Sri Lanka in multiple forms such as financial assistance, forex support, material supply, and many more. These efforts prove that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Neighborhood First' policy which places people-to-people engagement is still active.

India is becoming a stronger and more mutually beneficial partner to Sri Lanka. Apart from assistance during the pandemic and fertilizer chaos, India is also donating basic products to the island nation. —ANI

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