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Schools closures extended and power cuts planned nationwide as Sri Lanka fuel crisis deepens

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An anti-government protest in Colombo in May amid ongoing fuel shortages. Photo: AP

An anti-government protest in Colombo in May amid ongoing fuel shortages. Photo: AP

An anti-government protest in Colombo in May amid ongoing fuel shortages. Photo: AP

Cash-strapped Sri Lanka yesterday extended school closures for one week because there isn’t enough fuel for teachers and parents to get children to classrooms.

It comes as the energy minister appealed to the country’s expatriates to send money home through banks to finance oil purchases.

A huge foreign debt has left the Indian Ocean island with none of the suppliers willing to sell fuel on credit.

The available stocks, sufficient for just days, will be provided for essential services, officials said.

”Finding money is a huge challenge,” Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera told reporters.

He said the government has ordered new fuel stocks and the first ship with 40,000 metric tonne of diesel is expected to arrive on Friday. 

Several other fuel shipments are in the pipeline. But he said authorities are struggling to find $587m (€562m) to pay for the fuel. Mr Wijesekera said that Sri Lanka owed about $800m to seven fuel suppliers.

Last month, schools were closed for a day due to fuel shortages and had remained closed for the last two weeks in urban areas. They will remain shut until Friday.

Authorities also announced countrywide power cuts  of up to three hours a day from today as they can’t supply enough fuel to power stations.

Mr Wijesekera said the main problem is the lack of dollars and appealed to some two million Sri Lankans working abroad to send their foreign exchange earnings home through banks instead of informal channels.

He said workers’ remittances, which usually stood at $600m per month, had declined to $318m in June.

The drop came after the government last year ordered the mandatory conversion of foreign currency.

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It said that black-market premiums have led people to hoard foreign currency.

Sri Lanka’s has been getting most of its fuel needs from neighbouring India, which provided it with a credit line.

The government said it was also negotiating with suppliers in Russia and Malaysia.

In the capital, Colombo, protesters have been occupying the entrance to the president’s office for more than two months to demand President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation.


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