Sri Lanka until the last day of petrol, the prime minister tells the crisis-hit nation

Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed prime minister on Thursday, said in a speech to the nation that the country urgently needed $ 75 million in foreign currency to pay for essential imports.

“At the moment, we only have gasoline stocks for one day. The next two months are going to be the hardest of our lives,” he said.

“We have to prepare ourselves to make sacrifices and face the challenges of this period.”

Two shipments of gasoline and two shipments of diesel using an Indian credit line could provide relief in the coming days, he added, but the country is also facing a shortage of 14 essential medicines.

Sri Lanka currently faces a budget deficit of $ 6.8 billion (Sri Lankan rupee 2.4 trillion), or 13% of GDP.

The crisis led to widespread protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family, culminating in the resignation of his older brother Mahinda as prime minister last week after clashes between government supporters and protesters killed nine people and injured 300.

In response to the crisis, Wickremesignhe said the country would print more money and propose to privatize Sri Lanka’s flagship airline to keep the economy afloat, although he admitted inflation could worsen in the short term.

In his speech on Thursday, he promised to “build a nation without queues for kerosene, gas and fuel … a nation with abundant resources.”

Desperate offer

The president replaced Mahinda Rajapaksa with Wickremesinghe, an opposition lawmaker who has held office five times previously, in a desperate attempt to place the protesters.

But the protesters said they will continue their campaign as long as Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains president. They also labeled Wickremesinghe a stooge and criticized his appointment of four cabinet ministers, all members of the political party led by the Rajapaksa brothers.

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Wickremesinghe said on Monday he had taken on the role for the good of the country.

In Colombo, the commercial capital, long lines of auto rickshaws, the city’s most popular means of transport, have queued up at petrol stations waiting for fuel.

“I’ve been in the queue for over six hours,” said one driver, Mohammad Ali. “We spend six to seven hours online just to get gas.”

Another driver, Mohammad Naushad, said the gas station where he was waiting had run out of fuel.

“We are here from 7 to 8 in the morning and it is not yet clear whether they will have fuel or not,” he said. “When it comes, no one knows. There is a sense in our waiting here, even we don’t know.”

Hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemicRising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the Rajapaksas, the strategic Indian Ocean island nation is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis since its independence in 1948.

A chronic shortage of foreign exchange has led to rampant inflation and shortages of medicines, fuel and other essential goods, bringing thousands of people to the streets in protest.

Sri Lankan protesters burn down politicians' houses as the country plunges further into chaos

A shipment of diesel via an Indian credit line arrived in the country on Sunday, but has yet to be distributed throughout the island.

“Ask the public not to queue or fill up in the next three days until deliveries of 1,190 service stations are complete,” Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said Monday.

Wickremesinghe has yet to announce key ministers, including the crucial role of finance minister, who will negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for the financial aid the country desperately needs.

Former Finance Minister Ali Sabry had held preliminary talks with the multilateral lender, but resigned along with Mahinda Rajapaksa last week.

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