Sri Lanka shuts down as fuel supplies dwindle – Reuters

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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has less than a day’s worth of fuel, the energy minister said on Sunday, as public transport came to a halt as the country’s economic crisis deepened.

Queues of petrol and diesel snaked through the capital for miles, although most pumping stations have been without fuel for days.

Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the country’s oil reserves were around 4,000 tonnes, just below a day’s consumption.

“The next shipment of gasoline is expected between 22 and 23 (July),” Wijesekera told reporters in Colombo.

“We have contacted other suppliers, but cannot confirm new supplies until the 22nd.”

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

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

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Desperate people were seen trying to flag down the few vehicles on the road in hopes of a turn.

Private buses, which make up two-thirds of the country’s fleet, said they were operating a skeletal service on Sunday as they were hit hard by the fuel shortage.

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

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

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

Three-wheeled taxis – a popular last-mile form of transport – were also off the streets, with most seen queuing for days to get a six-litre ration of petrol.

A shortage of foreign exchange to fund even the most essential imports has led to the country’s worst economic crisis, with its 22 million people facing severe hardship daily.

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

All non-essential government institutions and schools have been closed until July 10 to reduce travel and save energy.

Local media reported that there had been sporadic clashes outside gas stations.

Last week troops opened fire to disperse a crowd protesting soldiers jumping the line.

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

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