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Severe Fuel Shortages Leave Pakistanis Fuming

Long Lines And Scuffles At Pakistani Filling Stations
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VIDEO: Long Lines And Scuffles At Pakistani Filling Stations.

Facing public anger over a crippling weeklong petrol shortage, Pakistan's government is struggling to restore supplies to some of the country's biggest cities.

"We are trying to solve this crisis by increasing the supply," Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told an independent television news channel on January 20. "We are trying to fill the supply gap that has emerged since January 10. Our supplies will soon increase substantially."

Abbasi said the government plans to increase petrol supplies from 12,000 to 15,000 metric tons.

But people in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and the eastern city of Lahore were still waiting in long queues to buy a few liters of petrol. Many have had to pay three or four times the normal $0.78 a liter to buy from bootleggers.

After suffering crippling gas and electricity shortages for years, Pakistanis are fuming over the unavailability of fuel soon after the government slashed the cost in light of falling global oil prices.

The government has so far failed to address the crisis, which began this month when the cash-starved major fuel importer Pakistan State Oil slashed petrol imports by half and skipped overseas fuel oil purchases altogether. This prompted petrol shortages around the country and hit the most populous eastern Punjab Province hard.

Meraj Uddin, a school-bus driver waiting in a long queue outside a gas station in Lahore, said the crisis has messed up his daily life. "I couldn't go to my workplace. Instead I arrived here to get petrol," he told Reuters. "I am upset. … Am I to perform my duty or queue up here to get petrol?"

Mohammad Umer, another Lahore resident, says the government should be made accountable. "The petroleum minister should resign and go home. The advisers to the prime minister who are unable to work properly should also go home," he said.

The petrol shortage has forced some ambulance fleets to suspend services and has substantially reduced attendance at offices and schools.

Some people have taken to social media to vent their anger. In a mocking reference to the governing Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), #PMLNPetrolChor ― Urdu for "PML-N petrol thief" ― was a top Twitter trend in Pakistan on January 21.

"The government is sleeping. I drive a government vehicle, and I have been queuing up [at a gas station] since the morning. I have been waiting for three hours to get petrol here," Nazir Ahmed Khan, a driver for a government department, told Reuters. "I have pleaded with beseeched them to sell me petrol for only 500 rupees ($5) so that my vehicle would be able to run till tomorrow morning."

The government is striving hard to calm public anger among its main Punjab support base.

"We are ashamed about the inconvenience that people are facing," Abbasi said. "We feel embarrassed, and we apologize for it."

With reporting by Reuters