People queue ‘more than 10 hours’ for fuel in crisis-stricken Sri Lanka
On Monday, Sri Lankan officials announced that the country would imminently run out of petrol, prompting long lines at petrol stations as desperate Sri Lankans try to fill up their tanks. The news has added to widespread unrest in the island nation as people protest the country’s worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948. Since March, citizens have been complaining of rising prices, shortages and blackouts – all while demanding that the ruling clan step down.
On May 16, newly appointed Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced that the country had only one day’s worth of petrol left – and couldn’t afford to import any more. Sri Lankans are demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whom they blame for the unprecedented economic disaster.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit Sri Lanka’s tourist-centred economy severely, leaving the government with a significant deficit of 2.4 trillion Sri Lankan rupees (6.3 billion euros) that it has tapped into foreign exchange reserves to pay off. The crisis has led to a devaluation of the country’s currency as well as shortages of food, medicine and fuel – as the country cannot afford to import these items.
Videos show long queues of cars and auto rickshaws, a popular form of transportation, outside of petrol stations.
‘Food prices have been doubled, and fuel prices have been doubled. People's earnings haven't changed even a bit’
Prasad Welikumbura is a Sri Lankan social and political activist who has been participating in the protests in the capital Colombo since day one.
People have to stay in queues for more than ten hours to get fuel with the fuel shortage. This has affected the transportation of goods and essentials, it’s hard for people to go to their day-to-day work. I usually use a taxi to get around, but right now, sometimes I have to wait for more than an hour to find a cab. This has been affecting everyone in the country. I believe that has massively affected the productivity of the people and their contribution to the GDP.
For the past three to four months, food prices have been doubled, and fuel prices have been doubled. People's earnings haven't changed even a bit. There is a widespread shortage of milk powder, propane cylinders and fuel. To make things worse, there is a shortage of medicines and medical equipment as well.
Some industries like construction have been completely stopped due to the rise in the price of materials. This caused tens of thousands of people to lose their way of living. At the same time, people living in condominiums and apartments cannot cook their food due to the liquid propane gas shortage.
Protesters have rallied against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, blaming him for mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic and tax cuts which they say have worsened the economy. Elected in 2019, Rajapaksa’s government also included two of his brothers and two nephews.
To deal with fuel shortages, the government has been imposing rolling blackouts since February 23. The March 31 announcement of daily 13-hour power cuts prompted the first wave of dissent that has since developed into widespread protests.
‘They used water cannons and tear gas on the protesters. We were almost beaten up by the police on our way home’
The string of protests that are happening today started in March in a suburb town of Colombo called Kohuwala. They were started due to power cuts happening around the country. Public tension was already there when these current protests started to happen.
I attended a protest that happened on March 31, where police and military brutally attacked the protesters. There was a medium-scale protest consisting of about 500 to 1,000 people happening in the town of Mirihana. During the protest, a group of protesters decided to go to President Gotabaya Rajapaksha's home and protest in front of it. The government tried to crack down on that protest. They used water cannons and tear gas on the protesters. We were almost beaten up by the police on our way home.
Two years of Lockdown in Sri Lanka and now the country is facing shortages of food, fuel, medicine and electricity, total economic collapse.— Real Mac Report (@RealMacReport) April 1, 2022
Last night protestors clash with local Police near President's house in Colombo after tear gas and water cannon used to disperse crowd. pic.twitter.com/hwXgQHshhs
BREAKING 🇱🇰Sri Lanka🇱🇰 : large number of people sorrounded Sri Lankan President's House amid economic crisis in the country— Zaid Ahmd (@realzaidzayn) March 31, 2022
♦️People chanting #GoHomeGota can be witnessed
♦️ People demanding the President to resign
♦️#SriLanka faces 13 hour power cut Island Wide#Mirihana pic.twitter.com/9GPCKKlkf1
When the police and army attacked the protesters, thousands of people living in the surrounding area came into the street in support of the protesters. The government imposed a curfew and badly beat the protesters. A large number of them were arrested.
The next day, the government declared a state of emergency [Editor’s note: giving security forces the authority to detain people without a warrant], and then on the next day imposed a curfew and social media and chat application blockade to stop people from protesting. Protests were held in several towns around the country despite the curfew.
In an attempt to quell the protests, which continued for over a month, former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa – the president’s brother – stepped down on May 9. However, protests continued and even escalated.
On May 10, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense ordered security forces to “shoot on sight” any protesters that are found to be damaging state property. Clashes between protesters and security forces have killed nine and injured 300.
Reasonable force at work. Pretty interesting isn't it? We are lucky that we are living in the information age where the majority of the people hold cameras in their hands. #lka #SriLanka #PoliceBrutality #GoHomeGota #HumanRights #FreedomOfExpression #පන්නමු pic.twitter.com/DEx5wKmA6x— Prasad Welikumbura (@Welikumbura) May 6, 2022
‘There is no common agreement on what kind of system change needs to happen’
Since it is a massive protest and participation is widespread, there are many demands. They mainly want the Rajapaksha family out of politics. They also want to put them behind bars for stealing public money. There is a call for a system change, but there is no common agreement on what kind of system change needs to happen.
The government hopes that shipments of petrol and diesel using an Indian line of credit may alleviate the crisis in the coming days, but Prime Minister Wickremesinghe warned citizens that “the next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives”.