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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s president on Wednesday said he urged Russian leader Vladimir Putin to help his cash-strapped island nation import fuel as it faces its worst economic crisis in seven decades.

Short of foreign exchange because of economic mismanagement and the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, Sri Lanka has been struggling to import even essentials, leading to severe shortages of medicine, food and fuel.

“Had a very productive telecon with the Russia President, Vladimir Putin,” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a tweet, adding that he had requested credit support from Russia to import fuel.

With its petrol and diesel stocks nearly exhausted, Sri Lanka has extended a countrywide school shutdown and asked public employees to work from home.

Bankrupt Sri Lanka’s inflation jumps beyond 50%

Sri Lanka has already bought oil from Russia to tide it over the crisis, and the government has indicated it is willing to make further purchases.

“We unanimously agreed that strengthening bilateral relations in sectors such as tourism, trade & culture was paramount in reinforcing the friendship our two nations share,” Rajapaksa said.

Tourism Push

Sri Lanka will also hold road shows in five Indian cities to attract more visitors from its populous northern neighbour to bring in more foreign currency, its tourism minister said.

Known for its rolling hills, pristine beaches and laidback seaside towns, Sri Lanka has seen a steady trickle of 61,951 Indian tourists - the most from any foreign country - in the first five months of this year.

Bankrupt Sri Lanka seeks discounted Russian oil

“Sri Lanka must have tourism revenue if it is to emerge from this crisis. That is essential,” Tourism Minister Harin Fernando told reporters.

Fernando said he hoped the country would end the year with about one million tourists, compared to less than 200,000 arrivals last year, even though some countries, including Britain, have issued advisories asking citizens to undertake only essential travel to Sri Lanka.

“We are confident the winter season will be good,” Fernando said.

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