Sri Lanka’s new prime minister will address the crisis-stricken nation later on Monday, as the country’s energy minister has told citizens not to join the long-running fuel crisis that has sparked weeks of anti-government protests.
On Thursday, Prime Minister-designate Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would give a “complete explanation” of the financial crisis that has devastated the strategic Indian Ocean island nation, where China and India are fighting for influence.
“There is a lot to be done and to be undone. We are prioritizing issues, rest assured that they will be resolved as soon as possible,” he said in multiple tweets on Sunday.
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 have described Bikram Singh as a hardliner and criticized the appointment of four cabinet ministers by members of political parties led by the Rajapaksa brothers.
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 in the morning and it’s not yet clear if they will have fuel,” he said.
Sri Lanka has been in an unprecedented crisis since its independence in 1948, hit hard by epidemics, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the Rajapaksa.
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.
“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,” Power Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said on Monday.
Vikramasinghe has yet to find a nominee for the important post of finance minister, who will discuss with the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance, which 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.
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