Sri Lanka fuel crisis: doctors and bankers protest ‘impossible situation’

Weeks of street demonstrations against cascading disasters such as power outages and shortages of food and medicine led to a change of government last month after protests killed nine people and injured about 300.

Left with enough fuel for about a week and fresh supplies for at least two weeks, the government on Tuesday restricted essential services such as trains, buses and the healthcare sector for two weeks.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that the government’s order of gasoline will arrive on July 22, while Lanka IOC, a division of the Indian Oil Corporation, is expecting a shipment of gasoline and diesel around July 13.

“The government is also trying to ensure fuel supplies in the near future. However, until they are confirmed, the details will not be made public,” the statement said.

Doctors, nurses and medical staff say despite being designated essential workers, they are struggling to find enough fuel to get to work.

“This is an impossible situation, the government must give us a solution,” HM Mediwatta, secretary of one of Sri Lanka’s largest nursing unions, the All Island Nurses Union, told reporters.

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The South Asian nation’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948 came after COVID-19 wreaked havoc on a tourism-dependent economy and cut remittances from foreign workers.

Rising oil prices, populist tax cuts and a seven-month ban on imports of chemical fertilizers last year that severely damaged agriculture have exacerbated the problems.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said the World Bank has agreed to restructure 17 projects it is funding in Sri Lanka. Similar support provided earlier was used to purchase fuel and medicines.

“Additional World Bank assistance will follow after the completion of negotiations with the IMF,” he wrote on Twitter.

An International Monetary Fund team is in Colombo to negotiate a bailout package of up to $3 billion. Sri Lanka hopes to reach a staff-level agreement by Thursday, but even then it is unlikely to bring immediate funds.

“unbearable”

The march of the trade union of bankers, teachers and self-employed to the president’s house was stopped by riot police, who erected barricades to protect the territory.

“Things have become unbearable for the common man,” said a spokesman for the teachers’ union. “We want this government to go home.”

More than 100 medical workers at the Colombo National Hospital marched to the Prime Minister’s Office, calling on the government to provide fresh supplies of fuel and medicines.

Public health inspectors and other health workers are also on strike on Wednesday and Thursday.

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The island of 22 million has nearly run out of foreign exchange reserves that could be used to import essentials such as food, medicine, gasoline and diesel.

As the crisis escalated, many people were detained while trying to escape the country by boat.

The government is also looking for help abroad, in countries from the Middle East to Russia.

On Tuesday, in an effort to get the fuel, Energy and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera met with Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy and the chief executive of Qatar Energy. He is also seeking a line of credit from the Qatar Development Fund.

Another Sri Lankan minister will travel to Russia over the weekend in search of energy deals.