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Indian officials in Sri Lanka for talks on struggling economy

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Senior Indian officials began talks with Sri Lankan leaders on economic aid on Thursday, a day after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced the country’s economy had “collapsed”.

Sri Lankans have endured months of shortages of food, fuel and other basic necessities due to the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves and mounting debt, compounded by the pandemic and other longer term problems.

India’s foreign minister and the government’s chief economic adviser met with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe and were later due to meet other senior officials.

India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman, Arindam Bagchi, said the delegation said India stands ready to help Sri Lanka achieve a “swift economic recovery by promoting investment, connectivity and building economic ties”. There was no immediate comment from the Sri Lankan side.

Wickremesinghe’s somber comments in parliament on Wednesday appeared aimed at fending off criticism of a situation that had long deteriorated. Economists and other Sri Lankans said they hoped the government would find ways to revive the economy.

“What the prime minister should do is not make announcements. He should come up with a plan to reactivate the system,” said WA Wijewardena, an economist and former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

Ordinary Sri Lankans have grown disillusioned as they skimp on meals and deprive themselves of other necessities, watching their quality of life plummet due to forces beyond their control.

At midnight on Wednesday, retired government worker Dharmasena Perera leaned on her motorbike at a gas station on the outskirts of the capital Colombo, trying to get some sleep after spending nearly 15 hours waiting in line to buy fuel. He said he joined the line at 6 a.m. and left without lunch or dinner. At midnight, he was still waiting his turn.

“He (the prime minister) always says things are bad and difficult. It seems he doesn’t have any solutions either,” Perera said.

At another gas station in Gampaha, a town about 30 kilometers (18 miles) northeast of Colombo, vendor Nuwan Pradeep also said people were sufficiently aware of the crisis, but the government seemed n have no solution.

“There’s no point explaining the same problem to us all the time,” Pradeep said.

India has supported Sri Lanka with a $4 billion line of credit to help purchase fuel and other essentials.

Sri Lanka is also negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout after it stopped repaying its debts.


Associated Press writer Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi, India, contributed to this report.

ABC News

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