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Sri Lanka grinds to a halt as fuel reserves dwindle

#Sri #Lanka #grinds #halt #fuel #reserves #dwindle

Sri Lanka has less than a day’s fuel left, the energy minister said on Sunday, as public transport ground to a halt amid the country’s deepening economic crisis.

Queues of petrol and diesel stretched for miles through the capital, although most pumping stations were without fuel for days.

Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the country’s gasoline reserves are about 4,000 tons, just short of a day’s consumption.

“The next delivery of gasoline is expected between July 22-23,” Wijesekera told reporters in Colombo.

“We have contacted other suppliers but we cannot confirm new shipments before the 22nd.”

Last week, financially strapped Sri Lanka announced a two-week halt to all fuel sales except for essential services to save petrol and diesel for emergencies.

Most shops were closed on Sunday and the situation is expected to worsen when banks and offices reopen on Monday.

Desperate people tried to stop the few vehicles on the road hoping for a ride.

Privately owned buses, which make up two-thirds of the country’s fleet, said they ran an emergency service on Sunday as they were badly hit by the fuel shortage.

“We have operated about 1,000 buses across the country, out of the 20,000 owned by our members,” said the chairman of the Private Bus Operators Association, Gemunu Wijeratne.

“The situation will certainly get worse tomorrow because we have no way of getting diesel.”

He said services would be further restricted on Monday and saw no immediate solution.

Three-wheeler taxis – a popular last-mile mode of transport – had also disappeared from the streets, with most seen queuing for days to get a ration of six liters of petrol.

A lack of foreign exchange to finance even the most important imports has led to the country’s worst economic crisis, leaving 22 million people in dire straits every day.

The country has also faced record high inflation and prolonged power outages since late last year.

All non-essential government facilities and schools were closed until July 10 to reduce commuting and conserve energy.

Local media reported there had been sporadic clashes in front of gas stations.

Last week, troops opened fire to disperse a mob protesting the projecting military.

Sri Lanka is currently in talks with the International Monetary Fund over a possible bailout after the country defaulted on its $51 billion external debt in April.

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