Sri Lanka’s new prime minister said on Monday that the crisis-ridden country was on the brink of a last-ditch petrol crisis as the country’s power minister told citizens not to join the long line of fuel that sparked weeks of anti-government protests.
In a speech to the nation on Thursday, Prime Minister-designate Ranil Wickremesinghe said the country urgently needs ৭ 75 million in foreign exchange for emergency imports.
“At the moment, we only have one day’s supply of petrol. The next few months will be the most difficult month of our lives, ”he said.
“We need to accept some sacrifices and prepare ourselves to meet the challenges of this time.”
Shipments of two petrol and two diesel using an Indian credit line could bring relief in the next few days, he added, but the country is also facing a shortage of 14 essential medicines.
The crisis has led to widespread protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family, with nine people killed and 300 injured in fighting between government supporters and protesters since his elder brother Mahinda resigned as prime minister last week.
The president was replaced by Vikramasinghe, an opposition parliamentarian who had held the post five times before, in a desperate attempt to quell the protests.
But protesters say they will continue their campaign as long as Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains president. They called Vikramasinghe a hardliner and criticized the appointment of four of his cabinet ministers, all members of political parties led by the Rajapaksa brothers.
On Monday, Bikram Singh said that he has taken this role for the good of the country.
In the commercial capital Colombo, long queues of autorickshaws, the city’s most popular mode of transportation, lined up at gas stations waiting in vain for fuel.
“I have been standing in line for more than six hours,” said Mohammad Ali, a driver. “We spend about six to seven hours in line just to get petrol.”
Another driver, Mohammad Nowshad, said the gas station where he was waiting had run out of fuel.
“We’ve been here since 7-8 am and it’s not yet clear if they will have fuel,” he said. “No one knows when he will come. We don’t know what it means to wait here. “
The Covid-19 epidemic, hit hard by rising oil prices and rampant tax cuts by the Rajapaksa, is a strategic island nation in the Indian Ocean, where China and India are fighting for influence, in an unprecedented crisis since independence in 1948.
A prolonged foreign exchange deficit has led to massive inflation and shortages of medicines, fuel and other essentials, with thousands taking to the streets in protest.
A diesel consignment using an Indian credit line arrived in the country on Sunday, but has not yet been delivered across the island.
On Monday, Power Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said, “Ask the public not to line up or top up until the supply of 1,190 fuel stations is completed in the next three days.”
Bikram Singh has not yet announced the key ministers, including key finance ministers, who will negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance that is badly needed for the country.
Former finance minister Ali Sabri had initial talks with the multilateral lender, but he resigned last week with Mahinda Rajapaksa.