The Sri Lankan government on Tuesday deployed soldiers at petrol pumps across the country as protests erupted with people standing in queues to buy fuel, which is in short supply, reported Reuters.
“At least two army personnel will be deployed at every fuel pump,” military spokesperson Nilantha Premaratne told Reuters. He added that the soldiers would help streamline the distribution of fuel but would not be involved in controlling the crowd.
Sri Lanka is facing a shortage of foreign currencies that has resulted in the devaluation of its currency and adversely affected payments for essential imports such as food, medicine and fuel.
Shortage of supplies has led to sporadic incidents of violence with residents jostling to buy fuel and other essential items. A man was stabbed to death on Monday in an argument with a driver, while three elderly citizens died last week while waiting to buy fuel in sweltering heat, the police said.
On Tuesday, a government spokesperson said that the decision to deploy troops at petrol pumps was taken to address complaints of stockpiling and inefficient distribution.
“The military has been deployed to help the public, not to curtail their human rights,” the spokesperson added.
Military officials said soldiers have been deployed at outlets of the state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, which accounts for two-thirds of the fuel retail business in the country, reported AFP.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has called for a meeting of all political parties on Wednesday to discuss the economic crisis. However, Opposition parties said they were planning to boycott the meeting.
The government also announced that it was seeking to restructure its debt and was looking for an international law firm to advise on the legal implications.
The statement came after Rajapaksa had last week said the country will seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. But the financial institution had noted that the government’s foreign debt burden of $51 billion (over Rs 3.88 lakh crore) was unsustainable.