COLOMBO, Sri Lanka ( Associated Press) — Sri Lankan authorities closed schools Friday and told officials not to come to their posts, a desperate move to prepare for a dire fuel shortage that is expected to last days in the face of its worst economic crisis in decades.
The Ministry of Public Administration asked officials, except those in charge of essential services, to stay home on Friday “in view of the current fuel shortage and problems in transport facilities” across the country.
Government-sanctioned state and private schools were also closed Friday as fuel supply problems worsened, with thousands queuing at gas stations across the island for days.
Sri Lanka is short on gasoline and faces severe shortages of other fuels.
The government has been trying for months to find money to finance the import of fuel, gas and other essentials as the Indian Ocean nation teeters on the brink of bankruptcy.
Its economic problems have led to a political crisis and the government faces widespread protests and unrest.
For months, the population has had to stand in long lines to buy basic goods, most of which come from abroad. The shortage of foreign exchange also made it difficult to import raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation.
Protesters blocked major streets demanding gas and fuel, and television stations showed people fighting over limited supplies in some areas.
Authorities have announced power outages across the country, of up to four hours a day, due to a lack of fuel for power plants.
Sri Lanka has defaulted on international loans for about $7 billion due this year, out of $25 billion it would have to repay by 2026. The nation’s total foreign debt stands at $51 billion. The Finance Ministry says they currently have just $25 million in usable foreign reserves.
The protesters have occupied the entrance to the office of the president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for more than a month to demand his resignation.
Months of anti-government protests have led to the near dismantling of the once powerful ruling family: one of the president’s brothers has resigned as prime minister, and others and a nephew have resigned from their government posts. Protesters accuse the Rajapaksa of causing the crisis through corruption and mismanagement.
New Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Monday some $75 billion is urgently needed to help supply essential goods, but the Treasury is struggling to find even $1 billion.