On the last day of petrol in Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister called on the crisis-stricken country

In a speech to the nation on Thursday, Prime Minister-designate Ranil Wickremesinghe said the country urgently needs ৭ 75 million in foreign exchange for emergency imports.

“Right now, we only have one day’s supply of petrol. The next few months will be the most difficult month of our lives,” he said.

“We need to accept some sacrifices and prepare ourselves to meet the challenges of this time.”

Two shipments of petrol and two consignments of diesel using Indian credit lines could provide relief in the next few days, he added – but the country is also facing a shortage of 14 essential medicines.

Sri Lanka currently faces a budget deficit of $ 6.8 billion (2.4 trillion Sri Lankan rupees) or 13% of their GDP.

The crisis has sparked widespread protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family, with nine killed and 300 injured in clashes between government supporters and protesters last week after his elder brother Mahinda resigned as prime minister.

In response to the crisis, Wickremesinghe said the country would print more money and offer to privatize Sri Lanka’s flagship airline to keep the economy afloat – although he acknowledged that inflation could worsen in the short term.

In his speech on Thursday, he promised to “build a nation without rows for kerosene, gas and fuel … a nation with abundant resources.”

Desperate bid

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was replaced by Vikramasinghe, an opposition parliamentarian who had held the post five times before, in a desperate attempt to quell the protests.

But protesters say they will continue their campaign as long as Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains president. They called Vikramasinghe a hardliner and criticized the appointment of four of his cabinet ministers, all members of political parties led by the Rajapaksa brothers.

Sri Lanka's prime minister has resigned amid protests over the economic downturn

On Monday, Bikram Singh said that he has taken this role for the good of the country.

In the commercial capital Colombo, long queues of autorickshaws, the city’s most popular mode of transportation, lined up at gas stations waiting in vain for fuel.

“I have been standing in line for more than six hours,” said Mohammad Ali, a driver. “We spend about six to seven hours in line just to get petrol.”

Another driver, Mohammad Nowshad, said the gas station where he was waiting had run out of fuel.

“We are here from 7 to 8 in the morning and it is not yet clear if they will have fuel,” he said. “No one knows when it will come. We have no idea what it means to wait here.”

Strictly hit by the Covid-19 epidemic, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the Rajapaksa, the strategic Indian Ocean island nation has been in an unprecedented crisis since independence in 1948.

A prolonged foreign exchange deficit has led to massive inflation and shortages of medicines, fuel and other essentials, with thousands taking to the streets in protest.

Sri Lankan protesters burn politicians.  Homes as the country plunges into further chaos

A diesel consignment using an Indian credit line arrived in the country on Sunday, but has not yet been delivered across the island.

“Ask the public not to line up or top up until the supply of 1,190 fuel stations is completed in the next three days,” Power Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said on Monday.

Bikram Singh has not yet announced the key ministers, including key finance ministers, who will negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance that is badly needed for the country.

Former finance minister Ali Sabri had initial talks with the multilateral lender, but he resigned last week with Mahinda Rajapaksa.

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