Afghan women demand education and jobs during a demonstration in Kabul

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan army fired warning shots at “an unruly crowd” after the group tried to break through a queue at a petrol station, authorities said on Sunday, amid lines of unprecedented wait for fuel that have been seen across the country grappling with its worst economic crisis. in memory.

The island nation of 22 million people lacked foreign currency to buy essential imports and defaulted on a multi-million dollar foreign debt last month. As it seeks a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, the country is facing an extreme shortage of basic necessities, with its existing fuel stock expected to run out within days.

Some Sri Lankans had been waiting in queues for days to refuel their vehicles when an incident occurred in Vishwamadu, about 365 km north of Colombo, at a gas station in the area on Saturday evening .

“The problem started at the gas station. There was confusion as some tried to break the queue,” Nihal Thalduwa, spokesman for the Sri Lankan police, told Arab News.

The army and police tried to maintain order at the fuel distribution point, Thalduwa said, adding that two civilians and three army officers were injured in the clash.

Military officers fired warning shots when the “unruly mob” tried to provoke them by throwing glass bottles and rocks, a spokesman said.

“An orchestrated attempt by an unruly mob, most of whom were inebriated, to provoke army personnel manning a guard post in the Vishwamadu area of ​​Mullaitivu was thwarted by the firing of several warning shots in the air,” army spokeswoman Nilantha Premaratne told Arab News.

The military said initial investigations confirmed the incident was a deliberate attempt “to sabotage the goodwill and cooperation that prevails between members of the security forces and the general public”.

Armed police and troops have been deployed to guard gas stations in Sri Lanka for months, and Premaratne said the same operations would continue.

“As the situation is normal, we continue with the same number of armed officers,” he said.

The crisis has led the government to declare a two-week closure of public institutions from Monday in a bid to save fuel, while the education ministry has ordered schools in the capital to close for at least a week. week.

As the country faces record inflation of nearly 40% and long power outages, long queues at gas stations across the country have also persisted. Among those who had to endure the long wait is Ashfaque Ahamed, who had to wait in line for around 23 hours over the weekend.

“I would take turns going to the bathroom and for our meals with the others in the queue,” Ahamed told Arab News. “It was a terrible experience in my life. I lost my daily salary of 5,000 LKR ($13.90) and I am so exhausted.

Helen D. Jessen