New President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed his school classmate Dinesh Gunawardena to succeed himself.

A former minister from the Podujana Peramuna party, Gunawardena has taken the oath of office in the presence of Wickremesinghe.
A former minister from the Podujana Peramuna party, Gunawardena has taken the oath of office in the presence of Wickremesinghe. (AP)

Senior Sri Lankan lawmaker Dinesh Gunawardena has been sworn in as the new prime minister, his office has said.

Seen as an ally of the Rajapaksa political family, his appointment on Friday came just hours after security forces cleared the main protest site occupied for months by demonstrators angry at the Rajapaksas over the country's economic collapse.

Gunawardena, 73, is a school classmate of new President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was elected by lawmakers and sworn into office earlier this week. Gunawardena belongs to a prominent political family.

A former minister from the Podujana Peramuna party, Gunawardena took the oath of office in the presence of Wickremesinghe, seated in front of uniformed military officers in a room packed with lawmakers and officials.

The rest of the cabinet is expected to be sworn in later on Friday.

Gunawardena's appointment by Wickremesinghe came after security forces cleared a protest camp near the presidential palace in the capital, Colombo, where demonstrators have gathered for the past 104 days.

There were at least nine arrests, according to Reuters news agency, as the new administration moves to crack down on protesters. The security forces were witnessed beating up at least two journalists.

At least two lawyers also were assaulted when they went to the protest site to offer their counsel, said the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. It also said one lawyer and several journalists were arrested.

“The use of the Armed Forces to suppress civilian protests on the very first day in office of the new President is despicable and will have serious consequences on our country’s social, economic and political stability,” the association said in its statement.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka troops storm key protest site as Wickremesinghe takes charge

Public outrage

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 essentials like 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 two decades, but public outrage over the economic crisis forced several family members to leave ministry posts earlier in the crisis.

Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency on Monday.

On Friday, he issued a notice under the state of emergency calling out the armed forces to maintain law and order nationwide. The emergency must be reviewed by Parliament regularly to decide whether to extend it or let it expire.

Wickremesinghe, also 73, has wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs and has been overseeing bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund. He said on Monday those discussions were near a conclusion and talks on help from other countries had also progressed. 

But Wickremesinghe is unpopular among voters who view him as a holdover from Rajapaksa’s government. The Rajapaksas' Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party, the largest in parliament, backed Wickremesinghe for the presidency. 

READ MORE: Ranil Wickremesinghe sworn in as Sri Lanka president amid crisis

Source: TRTWorld and agencies