COLOMBO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - ** Sri Lanka’s rupee closed slightly firmer on Thursday due to dollar selling by exporters, while stocks edged higher for a second straight session, moving away from an eight-week closing low hit early this week. ** The rupee closed at 181.60/80 per dollar, compared with 182.15/25 in the previous session, market sources said. On Jan. 3, the rupee fell to an all-time low of 183.00 against the dollar. ** The currency has appreciated 0.6 percent so far this year, Refinitiv data showed. ** Worries over heavy debt repayment after a 51-day political crisis have dented investor sentiment as the county is struggling to repay its foreign loans, with a record $5.9 billion due this year including $2.6 billion in the first three months. ** The central bank chief last week said around $5 billion borrowing in the pipeline could help debt repayments.
** The International Monetary Fund last week said it would resume discussions for further disbursal of part of a $1.5 billion loan amid investor worries of heavy debt repayments. ** The rupee fell 16 percent in 2018, according to the central bank data. It was one of the worst-performing currencies in Asia, Refinitiv data showed, due to heavy foreign outflows. ** The rupee has declined 4.9 percent since a political crisis started in October. That crisis had dented investor sentiment and delayed Sri Lanka’s borrowing plans. ** A series of credit rating downgrades after the political crisis have made it harder for Sri Lanka to borrow as it faces record high repayments. ** The Colombo Stock Index ended 0.15 percent firmer at 5,960.34 on Thursday. The benchmark index lost 5 percent in 2018. ** Turnover was 725.2 million rupees, less than last year’s daily average of 834 million rupees. ** Foreign investors were net buyers for a third straight session on Thursday, buying a net 310.7 million rupees worth of shares. But they have been net sellers of 2.05 billion rupees worth of stocks so far this year and 15.4 billion rupees since a political crisis began on Oct. 26. ** The bond market saw outflows of 86.7 billion rupees between Oct. 25 and Jan. 16, the latest central bank data showed. ** For a report on global markets, click here. ** For a report on major currencies, click ($1 = 182.0000 Sri Lankan rupees) (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)