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Rajapaksas are back and their priority would be to tide over minorities

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Colombo, Nov 22: Sri Lanka's powerful and controversial Rajapaksa clan tightened its grip on political power with President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa administering oath to his elder sibling Mahinda as the new prime minister, amidst apprehensions among the minority Tamils and Muslims in the island nation.

Mahinda assumed duties in his new capacity on Thursday itself. The 74-year-old leader will function as the prime minister of the caretaker cabinet until the general election in August 2020.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, front right, and his brother and the countrys new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa

Mahinda took the oath as the new prime minister at the Presidential Secretariat, three days after Gotabhaya was sworn in as the president.

Rajapaksa clan stages comeback in Sri Lanka, President Gotabhaya swears in his brother Mahinda as PM

Former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former president Maithripala Sirisena and a number of other political leaders were present on the occasion.

This is Mahinda's second innings as the prime minister. He was premier for a brief period in 2018 amidst a major political turmoil in the country.

Earlier in the day, Wickremesignhe formally tendered his resignation to President Gotabhaya.

Wickremesignhe announced his resignation on Wednesday following the presidential election debacle of his United National Party (UNP).

Gotabhaya defeated UNP's Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa in the presidential election held on November 16.

Soon after he was sworn in as the president, Gotabhaya thanked the powerful Buddhist clergy for backing his presidential bid and vowed to protect all communities, while giving foremost priority to Buddhism. He also thanked the Sinhala-majority people for electing him.

"I knew I would win the presidency with support coming only from the Sinhala majority. I told the minorities to join me. I did not receive their support. But I will make sure that I will be president for everyone," he said.

Muslims make up nearly 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's over 21 million people, who are predominantly Sinhalese Buddhists. About 12 per cent of the population are Hindus, mostly from the ethnic Tamil minority. Some seven per cent of the population are Christians.

There are already concerns in the country that Gotabhaya's remarks may have led to apprehensions among the minority communities, who are already worried about the possibility of the return of an iron-fist rule under the Rajapaksa-duo's regime.

Mahinda, who describes himself as "a rebel with a cause", earlier served as the country's president from 2005-2015, a period which was mired by allegations of human rights abuses, especially against the Tamils.

Mahinda was appointed the prime minister on October 26, 2018 by the then President Maithripala Sirisena, who sacked Wickremesinghe in a controversial move that plunged the country into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.

He resigned on December 15 as two crucial Supreme Court decisions made the former strongman's efforts to cling to premiership untenable.

The apex court later unanimously declared that the dissolution of Parliament by President Sirisena was "illegal".

Mahinda became the country's youngest ever parliamentarian in 1970 at the age of 24.

The two brothers -- Mahinda and Gotabhaya -- led a decisive campaign that helped end the island nation's three decade long civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

However, the brother-duo were accused of condoning sexual violence and extrajudicial killings allegedly by Lankan security forces during the civil war, which ended in May 2009 with the death of LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran.

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