Colombo, May 18 (EFE).- Sri Lanka’s energy minister Wednesday urged people not to stand in long queues for fuel as the crisis-ridden island ran out of its petrol stock amid weeks of anti-government protests that turned violent last week.
“Do not stay in queues. Even if you stay, we have no mechanism to provide petrol. We respectfully and kindly ask not to stay at filling stations,” Kanchana Wijesekera said in parliament.
He said securing fuel had become a challenge as the country has to pay $735 million for earlier shipments, while it needs $530 million to import fuel in June.
The minister said the country, however, has sufficient stocks of diesel.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the house that the government received a World Bank aid of $160 million on Tuesday.
“That money was not for fuel purchase. But we are asking if we can use it to buy fuel,” the prime minister said, adding that they were expecting more funds from the Asian Development Bank.
In a statement, top cooking gas distributor Litro said it had not unloaded a shipment due to inclement weather that arrived in the country.
“There is a delay in distribution, therefore do not remain in queues,” Litro said.
Sri Lanka is in the middle of its worst economic crisis since its independence from British rule in 1948.
The Indian Ocean island nation suffered from shortages of medicine, food, and fuel for months, with a backbreaking dollar crunch worsening the situation.
The economic crisis snowballed into political uncertainty as thousands of protesters took to the streets for weeks, demanding the government quit over the alleged mishandling of the falling economy and corruption.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to step down last week after clashes between pro-and anti-government supporters killed at least nine people.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the younger brother of the former prime minister, continues in the office even as the clamor for his resignation has grown.
The authorities are trying to negotiate a possible financial rescue with the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after Sri Lanka temporarily suspended paying its foreign debt in April.
Two weeks ago, the finance ministry reported that the island’s foreign exchange reserves had fallen to less than $50 million, and revenues were at a record low.
Tourism, one of the main economic drivers, has been stagnant after taking a hit first by terror attacks in 2019 and then by the coronavirus-induced lockdowns. EFE