Colombo, Jun 29 (PTI) Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has called his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to explore options of purchasing oil from Moscow, as Colombo desperately looks to replenish its dwindling fuel stocks amid an unprecedented economic crisis, a minister has said.
Gotabaya will also embark on a tour of the United Arab Emirates in the near future to import fuel from the oil-rich Gulf nation.
On Monday, the Sri Lankan government announced that only essential services will operate from midnight till July 10 and all other operations will be temporarily suspended as the island nation of 22 million faces an acute fuel shortage.
“President Gotabaya has called the Russian President to import fuel from Russia. He also plans to go on a tour to UAE to discuss with their leaders to import fuel,” news portal Economy Next quoted minister of state for power and energy Mahindananda Aluthgamage, and a close ally of the president, as saying during a media briefing on Tuesday.
The Sri Lankan economy has virtually come to a grinding halt after it has run out of foreign exchange reserves to import fuel.
On Monday, Rajapaksa said in a tweet that he met Russian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Yuri Materiy to discuss the country’s economic crisis due to a crippling shortage of foreign exchange reserves.
“Had a productive meeting with the Russian Ambassador Yuri Materiy yesterday. Maintaining robust bilateral relations between our two countries, whilst focusing on developing trading opportunities was discussed extensively at this meeting,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
Last month, Sri Lanka had purchased 90,000 tonnes of oil from Russia.
Sri Lanka’s Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera flew to Qatar on Monday to negotiate a long-term fuel supply deal with the Gulf nation.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister, has warned that the country would be requiring upto USD 5 million to pay for its fuel imports.
Consequently, schools have been shut for two weeks due to the ongoing fuel crisis and supplies have been diverted only to essential services, while employees of public sector offices have also been asked to work from home.
Since June 24, no fuel tankers with supplies have arrived in the island nation while the state-run fuel retailer Ceylon Petroleum Corporation says no new orders have been placed.
Meanwhile, the government’s statistics office said on Tuesday that the economic growth in the first quarter of this year is projected to see a minus 1.6 per cent growth due to the economic crisis.
A release said that fuel shortages had impacted all sectors with reduced production contributing to the negative growth.
The nearly-bankrupt country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026.
Sri Lanka's total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.
Sri Lankans continue to languish in long fuel and cooking gas queues as the government is unable to find dollars to fund imports.
So far, there have been an estimated twelve deaths in fuel queues due to exhaustion, physical ailments or accidents.
Irate citizens want President Rajapaksa and his government to resign immediately for their inability to tackle the fuel shortages.
Indian credit lines for fuel and essentials have provided lifelines until the ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund could lead to a possible bailout.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without any modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)
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