India to be Lankan President's first foreign destination

India to be Lankan President's first foreign destination

India to be Lankan President's first foreign destination

India may be the first foreign destination of the newly-elected Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena who today began an exercise in assembling a "national unity" cabinet and invited exiled dissidents back to the country.

A day after his stunning victory deposing the formidable Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential election, the new President is planning to include ministers from a cross-section of parties.

He also began a purge of the bureaucracy of the Rajapaksa regime, appointing Rajitha Senaratne as the government spokesman. P B Abeykoon, a senior civil servant, has replaced Lalith Weeratunga as the Presidential Secretary or the head of the civil service.

"The President will name some ministers next week and the balance after the Pope's visit," from January 13 to 15, Senaratne, who is tipped to become health minister, told reporters here.

Sirisena, who had promised a 100-day programme to carry out urgent political and economic reforms, has ordered the immediate lifting of censorship on dissident websites, an end to phone tapping, surveillance of journalists and politicians, and the establishment of a right to information law.

Sri Lankan journalists and other dissidents, who had fled the country, were invited back on the promise that criticism was welcome.

Sirisena himself made no public comments today and he is expected to make an address in the hill town of Kandy tomorrow.

Yesterday shortly after being sworn-in, the new President had appointed as his Prime Minister opposition leader in Parliament Ranil Wickeramasinghe who is said to have good relations with the West and India.

Senaratne said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British Premier David Cameron were among the first to congratulate Sirisena, whose first overseas visit will be to India next month.