As thousands queue daily for fuel, a crisis-hit island nation orders troops.
After a sudden increase in the prices of key commodities and subsequent shortages that caused tens to thousands of people to wait for hours, Sri Lanka’s military has been instructed to place soldiers at hundreds of fuel stations.
The Indian Ocean nation, an island nation, faces a foreign currency crisis. This has caused the currency to devalue and affected imports’ payments like fuel and food. It has prompted the government to contact the International Monetary Fund.
Officials said three older people died while waiting in long lines, and the decision to place troops near petrol pumps was made after they could not wait.
According to Nilantha Premaratne, a military spokesperson, “At minimum two army personnel will be deployed to every fuel pump.” She added that soldiers would organize fuel distribution but not participate in crowd control.
Ramesh Pathirana, a government spokesperson, stated that the move was in response to complaints about stockpiling and inefficient distribution.
He said, “The military was deployed to assist the public, and not to curtail their rights to human dignity.”
‘Tempers getting frayed.’
Residents jostling for fuel or other necessities have been subject to tension due to the scarcity of supplies.
Police say that a man was fatally stabbed in an argument with a driver of a three-wheeled vehicle on Monday. Last week, three older men were killed while waiting to purchase fuel in the scorching heat.
A top defense official said that “Tempers are fraying as queues grow longer,” AFP reported under anonymity.
“A decision was taken [Monday] night, to call out soldiers to support the police. This is to dissuade any unrest.”
According to military officials, soldiers were seen at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation’s pumping stations. This corporation accounts for nearly two-thirds of retail fuel sales in the country of 22 million people.
On Monday, social media shared images of a scene in which a group of angry women blocked a coach transporting tourists. They were protesting the shortage of kerosene required for cooking stoves.
Police said that many petrol stations had people who stayed over to buy gasoline and diesel.
The office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced Wednesday’s summit of all political parties to discuss the economic crisis. However, opposition groups stated that they would boycott the meeting.
A shortage of foreign currency causes Sri Lanka’s financial crisis. This leaves traders unable to finance imports.
The COVID-19 pandemic decimated the island’s tourism industry – a major source of foreign exchange earnings – and remittances from Sri Lankans living abroad have also fallen sharply.
Rajapaksa declared last week that his country would seek an IMF bailout.
Shortages have caused havoc in almost every area of daily life. Authorities last week delayed term tests for millions of students due to a shortage of paper and ink.