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Sri Lankans queue for days at gas pumps with no promise of petrol

#Sri #Lankans #queue #days #gas #pumps #promise #petrol

Out of gas and stuck in line for days, a group of motorists kick off their shoes and settle down on a sidewalk in the Sri Lankan capital for a game of cards.

Curfews, clouds of tear gas and the president’s sudden departure and resignation have failed to stop the long lines of vehicles weaving out of Colombo’s empty gas stations.

Chronic fuel shortages were a source of frustration for months, but are now worse than ever, with some people queuing for days with no guarantees of a refill.

“I’ve been here for four days,” said Vipul Dissanayaka, the driver of one of the city’s ubiquitous three-wheel motor taxis.

The 56-year-old would normally ferry people around town, but in recent months the increasing wait for fuel has made his job all but impossible.

“Innocent people are suffering,” he told AFP news agency. “Gasoline is our life. We feed our children with it.”

Nearby motorists wait listlessly behind the wheel in the city’s tropical heat, while motorcyclists without the luxury of a reclining seat unroll rattan mats to take a nap on the floor.

No one wants to vacate their seat after waiting so long, even as unrest sparked by Sri Lanka’s painful financial crisis has rattled nearby streets.

They stayed put even as protesters – furious at the government’s economic mismanagement – braved tear gas fires to storm the home of the president, who later fled the country on a military flight in the early hours before he announced his resignation on Thursday emailed from Singapore.

And they shrugged off a curfew ordering people to return home so troops could restore order.

– “Walking backwards” –

So far, they have waited in vain as Sri Lanka’s depleted foreign exchange reserves have meant the country struggles to pay for new imports.

The resulting bottlenecks were a major source of public anger, with local media reporting sporadic clashes outside petrol stations and the deaths of more than a dozen people in line.

Weeks ago, troops opened fire to disperse a mob protesting military personnel queuing for supplies.

The government last month shut down non-essential public services to conserve fuel, ordered a further hike in the price of petrol and then suspended petrol sales for two weeks.

Only a small proportion of vehicles remain on the road, including overcrowded commuter buses and motorists who can afford black market prices of up to 3,000 rupees ($8.30) a liter.

Sri Lanka’s energy minister said this week another shipment of marine fuel from India would arrive in the country no later than next Tuesday, weather permitting to dock at the port.

However, the resupply is unlikely to alleviate the frustration that has grown with waiting between new deliveries.

“There is no gas, children don’t go to school, prices are very high,” Gihan Martyn, a Colombo resident, told AFP.

“Day by day the country goes backwards.”

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