Sri Lanka shuts schools, officials asked not to work

Sri Lanka shuts schools, officials asked not to work

Sri Lankan authorities closed schools and asked public officials not to come to work in a desperate move to prepare for an acute fuel shortage that is expected to last days amid the nation's worst economic crisis in decades.

The Public Administration Ministry asked the public officials - except those who maintain essential services - to stay home from work Friday because of current fuel shortage and issues in transport facilities across the country.

State and government-approved private schools were closed Friday due to the worsening fuel shortage, with thousands of people waiting in line at fuel stations across the country for days at a time.

Sri Lanka is almost without gasoline and faces an acute shortage of other fuels as well.

The government is on the brink of bankruptcy and is struggling to find money for the importation of fuel, gas and other essentials in recent months.

The government has been facing widespread protests because of its economic woes.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa swore in nine cabinet ministers Friday, raising the total number to 13 as he attempts to stabilize the government after a string of resignations.

The new ministers include four independent lawmakers, three from the ruling party and two from the main opposition party. Four of the four ruling party lawmakers were appointed cabinet ministers last week.

In early April, Rajapaksa sought a unity government but the largest opposition political party, the United People's Force, rejected the proposal.

For months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy essentials, most of which come from abroad. Shortages of hard currency have also hindered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation.

Protesters blocked main roads to demand gas and fuel, and television stations showed people fighting over limited stocks.

The authorities have announced countrywide power cuts of up to four hours a day because they can't supply enough fuel to power power generating stations.

Sri Lanka has suspended repayment of around $7 billion in foreign loans due to this year, out of $25 billion, to be repaid by 2026. The country has $51 billion in foreign debt. The finance ministry says the country currently has only $25 million in usable foreign reserves.

Protesters have occupied the entrance to the President's office for more than a month, calling for Rajapaksa to resign.

Months of anti-government rallies have resulted in the dismantling of the once-powerful ruling family, with one of the president's brothers resigning as prime minister, and other siblings and a nephew leaving their Cabinet posts. Protesters accuse the Rajapaksas of triggering the crisis through corruption and misrule.

Sri Lanka s new prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Monday that $75 billion is needed urgently to help provide essential items, but the country s treasury is struggling to find even $1 billion.

Activists from Rajapaksa s supporters on protesters last week sparked nationwide violence that left nine people dead, including a lawmaker, and more than 200 injured. The homes of lawmakers and their supporters were burned down.