Petrol panic eases in Egypt

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CAIRO: Fuel distribution improved in Egypt on Thursday after panicked motorists flooded gas stations for days, prompting the death of one person and scuffles that left several people hurt.

Queues receded at many Cairo stations, which have been short on petrol and diesel since Sunday, an AFP correspondent said.

Media outlets reported improvements since Wednesday, after the authorities moved to reassure the public in a bid to normalize the situation.

There was a "limited improvement in the domestic petrol and gas crisis in Cairo, but the problem continues in the provinces," read the headlines of the government-owned newspaper Al-Akhbar.

The daily said that cheaper, lower-octane petrol was nowhere to be found in certain areas, such as the province of Qaliubiya, north of Cairo.

The independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported seven people were injured in clashes in front of petrol stations in Daqahliya, another province in the the Nile Delta.

Al-Shorouk newspaper, meanwhile, said one person was shot dead in Helwan, south of Cairo, in a gunfight between a station’s staff and taxi drivers.

Oil sector workers confirmed a resumption of distribution, stressing they were irregular and varied by region and fuel type.

The rush for fuel was sparked by a fear of inflated prices, which have been kept very low thanks to subsidies that severely weigh down the Egyptian budget.

The government blamed unfounded "rumors" of structural shortages and mounting prices, accusing speculators of provoking the crisis by reselling fuel on the black market.

Numerous gas stations said they’ve been getting less than their regular share for almost a month.

Officials have also linked the crisis to smugglers who reportedly buy up the subsidized petrol to sell abroad.

Egypt, which has been mired in an economic crisis since president Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular revolt February 2011, has seen its foreign currency reserves plummet and its budget deficit rise.

The crisis has raised questions about the benefits of maintaining expensive fuel subsidies, as a portion is imported with terms of payments that have become increasingly difficult to meet in light of cashflow problems.

Cairo is currently courting the International Monetary Fund for a $3.2 billion loan to relieve the crisis.

IMF Middle East director Masood Ahmed said on Wednesday that "energy subsidies and tax irregularities" are among Egypt’s key woes, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

Planning and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Aboul Naga said the IMF loan would help the government implement its program to cut the budget deficit and the balance of payments. –AFP with additional reporting by Daily News Egypt.


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