Sri Lanka sends troops to gas stations amid worsening economic crisis

The Indian Ocean country is battling a currency crisis that has caused a currency devaluation and a hit on payments for key imports such as food, medicine and fuel, prompting it to seek help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“The government must find a solution,” said Sita Gunasekera, 36, who lives with her husband and two children in the capital, Colombo.

“There is too much hardship and suffering,” added Gunasekera, who said she spends more time queuing for fuel than doing anything else.

“The prices of everything have gone up and we can barely keep up with what we earn every day.”

The decision to deploy troops near gas stations and kerosene supply points came after three elderly men fell dead while waiting in long lines, officials said.

It was in response to complaints about stockpiling and inefficient distribution, said government spokesman Ramesh Patirana.

“The military was deployed to help the population, not to infringe on their human rights,” he added.

Two soldiers at each pump

Military spokeswoman Nilanta Premaratne told Reuters that at least two troops would be stationed at each gas station to help organize the distribution of fuel, but the soldiers would not be involved in riot control.

Tensions over shortages of supplies fueled sporadic outbreaks of violence among those trying to buy fuel and other necessities.

Police said a man was stabbed to death on Monday in an altercation with the driver of a three-wheeler, and last week three elderly men died while queuing for fuel in sweltering heat.

A rapid drain on Sri Lankan dollars has left the country struggling to pay for critical imports as foreign exchange reserves have fallen 70% in the past two years to $2.31 billion.

But Sri Lanka has to repay about $4 billion of debt by the end of this year, including $1 billion in international sovereign bonds that mature in July.

Ahead of talks with the IMF in Washington in April, the government said it would hire an international law firm to provide technical assistance on debt restructuring to fight the crisis.

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