A ship carrying 40,000 tonnes of diesel under a $1 billion credit line given to Sri Lanka by India has reached the island nation. The fuel will be distributed across Sri Lanka this evening.
The nation of 22 million people is in the grips of its worst downturn since independence, sparked by an acute lack of foreign currency to pay for even the most essential imports.
Diesel — the main fuel for buses and commercial vehicles — was unavailable at stations across the island, according to officials and media reports — crippling public transport.
Owners of private buses — which account for two-thirds of the Sri Lanka’s fleet — said they were already out of oil and that even skeleton services might not be possible after today.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on Friday, giving sweeping powers to security forces a day after hundreds tried to storm his house in anger over the unprecedented economic crisis.
Rajapaksa invoked the tough laws allowing the military to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without trial as demonstrations calling for his ouster spread across the island nation.
The southern towns of Galle, Matara and Moratuwa also saw anti-government protests, and similar demonstrations were reported in the northern and central regions. All held up traffic on main roads.
Rajapaksa’s office said on Friday that the protesters wanted to create an “Arab Spring” — a reference to anti-government protests in response to corruption and economic stagnation that gripped the Middle East more than a decade ago.
One of the President’s brothers, Mahinda, serves as Prime Minister while the youngest, Basil, is Finance Minister. His eldest brother and nephew also hold cabinet positions.
Sri Lanka’s predicament has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which torpedoed tourism and remittances. Many economists also say the crisis has been exacerbated by government mismanagement and years of accumulated borrowing.
The latest official data released on Friday showed inflation in Colombo hit 18.7 per cent in March, the sixth consecutive monthly record. Food prices soared a record 30.1 per cent.
With inputs from NDTV