Sri Lanka deploys soldiers to petrol pumps as country faces worst financial crisis

Sri Lanka on Tuesday deployed military personnel to state-run petrol pumps to monitor and manage fuel distribution amid a shortage that has led to long queues of consumers outside petrol pumps.

The island nation is facing an acute economic and energy crisis triggered due to the shortage of foreign currency. A sudden rise in commodity prices and a fuel shortage forced tens of thousands of people to line up for hours at gas pumps. People also face long hours of power outages daily.

Unarmed soldiers were seen Tuesday morning at gas stations run by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC).

Energy Minister Gamini Lokug told reporters, “We have decided to deploy military personnel to the petrol sheds to deal with undesirable situations where people take fuel from canisters to do business. They will ensure that the fuel is distributed fairly among the population.”

Troops are deployed at gas stations where long queues have been seen for weeks.

At least four deaths were reported as people lined up for fuel. Of the four deaths, three were of elderly people who died of exhaustion on Saturday while waiting in long queues outside petrol stations for more than six hours in scorching heat and one was due to a stab wound that followed a fight at the fuel line on Sunday.

The currency crisis has interrupted the smooth importation of fuel, cooking gas and most basic necessities. The government has requested Indian lines of credit to ensure the supply of essentials, including fuel.

Last week, India announced a $1 billion line of credit to Sri Lanka as part of its financial assistance to help the country weather the economic crisis. New Delhi extended a $500 million line of credit to Colombo in February to help it purchase petroleum products.

Meanwhile, angry citizens have accused the government of formulating short-sighted policies, which they say caused the crisis.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst currency crisis ever after the pandemic hit the country’s income from tourism and remittances. By December last year, the reserve position had fallen to just one month of imports, or just over $1 billion.

The forex crisis triggered the energy shortage as Sri Lanka suffered a loss of foreign exchange reserves to finance imports in addition to heavy international debt service obligations.

Sri Lanka had more than $7.5 billion in debt payments to meet at the start of this year. A $500 million payment was made in January amid calls from experts for default to fund imports.

Another $1 billion international bond payment is due in July.

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