TUNIS — Frustrated motorists queued in long lines outside Tunisian petrol stations on Tuesday even after the energy minister had said a shortage would end on Monday with a new delivery of fuel.
Many petrol stations started running out of fuel over the weekend as imports slowed and national supplies dropped, leading to lines of cars stretching kilometers in some places, causing bad traffic in Tunisian cities.
“I didn’t go to work today,” said Mohamed Neji, who had been waiting for an hour and a half in the Ariana district of Tunis.
“We’ve become like refugees in our own country,” he added, alluding to other shortages that have struck Tunisia in recent weeks including flour, sugar, butter, milk and cooking oil.
Tunisia faces a crisis in public finances and the influential labor union which has branches in government and national supply sectors says the state has struggled to pay for imports of goods that it sells at subsidized rates.
President Kais Saied, who moved to rule by decree after shutting down parliament last year and expanding his powers with a new constitution, has blamed hoarders and speculators for goods shortages.
Tunisia hopes soon to finalize a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue program that could also unlock billions of dollars in bilateral support from other countries.
However, it is not clear if it can push through the reforms that the IMF wants, including reductions in subsidies that are opposed by the labor union.
Near petrol stations in Tunis on Tuesday there was furious honking from cars as lines of waiting motorists blocked traffic lanes, with vehicles crammed into the spaces around.
Cars at many petrol stations were only allowed to fill up to 30 dinars ($9) worth of petrol, or about 13 liters. At some, petrol station workers were distributing petrol from plastic bottles to ease congestion at the pumps.
“I waited my turn for two hours. It’s a nightmare we live every day. I no longer have confidence in the state. It’s bankrupt, but they in government keep telling us everything is available,” said Zara, a woman waiting in Ariana. (Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall, editing by Nick Macfie)