Tycoon appointed crisis-hit Sri Lanka's minister for investment promotion

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Fuel shortage in Sri Lanka

By Uditha Jayasinghe

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's president on Friday appointed tycoon Dhammika Perera as minister for investment promotion, his office said in a statement, as the crisis-hit country struggles to find foreign exchange to import food, fuel and drugs.

A major Sri Lankan investor who holds stakes in dozens of companies, Perera replaced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's brother in parliament earlier this month after he stepped down.

Basil Rajapaksa, the president's younger brother, previously served as finance minister.

"Dhammika Perera is a very successful businessman and he has come out with several proposals on how Sri Lanka can emerge from this crisis," Sagara Kariyawasam, General Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party, told Reuters. "We will watch with optimism."

Perera, one of the richest businessmen in Sri Lanka, has investments in companies spanning manufacturing, banking and finance, leisure, plantations and power generation.

Sri Lanka is in the midst of its worst financial crisis since independence in 1948. Foreign exchange reserves have dropped to record lows leaving it struggling to pay for essential imports and triggering shortages and months of protests.

Sri Lanka is aiming to attract $1 billion in investment despite the crisis and has a pipeline of lucrative projects, especially in renewable energy.

Perera's ministry will have oversight of several key government agencies including Sri Lanka's board of investment and the IT industry regulator, both of which were previously under the president, according to a gazette issued this month.

(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe, Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal, Editing by Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie)