Sri Lanka arrests oil workers as troops restore supplies
AFP – Sri Lanka arrested dozens of striking oil workers as the military moved into to restore supplies and end fuel shortages that threatened international aviation too, police and military officials said.
Police said they arrested 20 workers of the state Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) who defied an order by President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday banning strikes in the energy sector.
The military said it deployed armed troops to guard two wholesale oil distribution depots and ensure gasoline and diesel was being distributed in addition to aviation fuel.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament that a tanker train carrying aviation fuel was also despatched to the airport despite attempts by strikers to block it.
Hundreds of workers went on strike since Tuesday night protesting over government plans to sell off stakes in state-owned oil storage depots to India and China.
The indefinite walkout by CPC workers was instigated by former president Mahinda Rajapakse, government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters in Colombo.
"It is the Rajapakse faction that is behind the strike," said Senaratne who is also the minister of Health. "They think they can bring the government down through this action, but we will not allow that."
He said those who defy the government’s ban on strike under the tough Public Security Ordinance will be sacked and those responsible for sabotaging oil facilities will be prosecuted.
"The army has assisted the police in providing security to two oil distribution centres," military spokesman Roshan Seneviratne told AFP. "We also provide security to those who have reported for work to restore supplies."
"We made sure that convoys of supplies were moved out today to ease the fuel shortage."
The strike triggered fears of a fuel crisis on the island, with long queues of cars and trucks building up outside petrol stations across the country during the night.
CPC trade unions, who downed tools Tuesday, said they will not return to work until the government abandons plans to sell stakes in oil storage tank facilities in the northeast and south of the island.
The government has said it wants to develop a disused World War II-era oil depot in the northeastern port of Trincomalee with an Indian state-owned company.
Authorities also want to form a partnership with a Chinese company to develop the loss-making Hambantota port, including its oil storage tanks, in the island’s south.
The government finalised a $1.12 billion deal to sell off a majority stake in the strategically sited port to Beijing’s state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings on Tuesday. The deal is to be signed on Saturday.