Sri Lankan PM to address country in crisis as fuel runs out

COLOMBO, May 16 (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s new prime minister will address the crisis-hit nation on Monday, as the country’s energy minister told citizens not to join long lines of fuel wait that has galvanized weeks of anti-government protests.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed prime minister on Thursday, said he would give a “full explanation” of the financial crisis that has devastated the strategic Indian Ocean island nation, where China and India are vying for influence.

“There is a lot to do and undo. We are prioritizing questions, rest assured they will be answered as soon as possible,” he said in a series of tweets on Sunday.

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The crisis has 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 fighting between government supporters and protesters left 9 people dead. and 300 wounded.

The president then replaced him with Wickremesinghe, an opposition parliamentarian who had held the post five times before, in a desperate attempt to appease protesters.

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

In Colombo, the commercial capital, long queues of auto rickshaws, the city’s most popular means of transport, lined up at gas stations in a fruitless wait for fuel.

“I stood in line for more than six hours,” said a driver, Mohammad Ali. “We spend almost six to seven hours in line just to get gas.”

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

“We’ve been here 7-8 a.m. and it’s still not clear if they’ll have fuel or not,” he said. “When that will happen, no one knows, we don’t know either.”

Hit hard by the pandemic, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the Rajapaksas, Sri Lanka is going through an unprecedented crisis since its independence in 1948.

A chronic shortage of foreign currency has led to runaway inflation and shortages of medicine, fuel and other essentials, sending thousands to the streets in protest.

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

“Ask the public not to queue or refuel in the next three days until deliveries from all 1,190 gas stations are completed,” Energy Minister Kanchana said on Monday. Wijesekera.

Wickremesinghe has yet to find a candidate for the crucial post of finance minister, who will negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for much-needed financial aid.

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

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Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Uditha Jayasinghe in Colombo; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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