Sri Lankan president’s powers to be reduced: Prime minister

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Sri Lanka’s prime minister said Tuesday the constitution will be changed to clip presidential powers and empower Parliament as protesters continued to call on the president and his powerful family to quit over the country’s economic crisis.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told Parliament that the power transfer will be one of the quick steps that can be taken to politically stabilize the country and help talks with the International Monetary Fund for an economic recovery plan.

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“While looking for solutions to the economic problems, it is important that we have political and social stability in the country,” Rajapaksa said, adding that reverting to a constitutional status with more powers to Parliament will be start to the reforms.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is the prime minister’s brother, concentrated more powers in the presidency on being elected to the office in 2019.

Thousands of protesters were occupying the entrance to the president’s office for a 11th day Tuesday, holding him responsible for the economic crisis.

Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy, with nearly $7 billion of its total $25 billion in foreign debt due for repayment this year. A severe shortage of foreign exchange means the country lacks money to buy imported goods.

People have endured months of shortages of essentials like food, cooking gas, fuel and medicine, lining up for hours to buy the very limited stocks available.

Last week, the government said it was suspending repayment of foreign loans pending talks with the IMF. Finance Minister Ali Sabry and officials left for talks with the IMF on Sunday. The IMF and World Bank are holding annual meetings in Washington this week.

Sri Lanka has also turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.

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