Opposition party joins Sri Lanka government

COLOMBO - Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka's prime minister on Friday for another term after securing the backing of the country's second-biggest party for a new government of national unity.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party of Mahinda Rajapakse agreed to enter a broad-based coalition government with Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP), although the former president will remain on the opposition benches.

Details of the agreement were not immediately known, but the SLFP is expected to secure several portfolios in a cabinet to be named on Monday.

Wickremesinghe took the oath for a fourth term at his office in Colombo overlooking the Indian Ocean in a ceremony broadcast live on national television.

His UNP party won the largest number of seats in Monday's election but fell short of a majority in the 225-member parliament.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which holds 16 seats, has said it will not join a coalition but has promised the new government "issue-based" support.

Rajapakse, who attended Friday's swearing in, had hoped to become prime minister himself.

But he conceded on Tuesday that his dream had "faded away" after results showed a surge in voter support for Wickremesinghe's UNP.

Rajapakse, 69, suffered a surprise defeat in presidential elections in January, but remains popular among large sections of the majority Sinhalese community for presiding over a crushing defeat of Tamil separatist guerrillas.

He was succeeded as president by his former ally and health minister Maithripala Sirisena, who appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister to push through a series of major reforms.

Sirisena wants to reverse many of the constitutional changes brought in by Rajapakse, who awarded himself huge powers as president.

He called parliamentary elections a year ahead of schedule after MPs loyal to Rajapakse consistently blocked the changes.

The new government is likely to introduce legislation to establish independent commissions to run the police, public service and judiciary.

Parliament is due to open on September 1.