COLOMBO: A severe fuel shortage sparked spontaneous protests across Sri Lanka on Tuesday, with tens of thousands of angry motorists burning tires and blocking a major road leading into the capital, police and local officials said. Sri Lanka has run out of dollars to finance vital imports including food, medicine and fuel, sparking weeks of protests calling for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the country's worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

The latest demonstrations saw a 115 kilometer (71 miles) highway connecting the central city of Kandy to capital Colombo cut off at multiple stretches as fuel stations across Sri Lanka ran out of petrol and diesel. Main oil retailer Ceylon Petroleum Corporation raised prices by up to 64.2 percent on Tuesday and lifted a rationing system limiting how much fuel individuals could buy that had been implemented last week. Lanka IOC, a petrol retailer which accounts for a third of the local market, had already raised its prices by up to 35 percent on Monday.

The motorists join throngs of protesters in Colombo who have been calling for Rajapaksa to step down for 11 straight days. Doctors at the country's main children's hospital also began demonstrating on Tuesday over a serious shortage of medicines and equipment.

In a bid to address growing calls for his entire government to resign, Rajapaksa on Monday appointed a new cabinet that excluded two of his brothers and a nephew-who had held key posts in the previous setup-and acknowledged public anger over the ruling family's mismanagement. But his older brother Mahinda will continue to hold on to the prime minister's seat.

"People are suffering because of the economic crisis and I deeply regret it," the president said in an address to his new cabinet on Monday, conceding Sri Lanka should have begun bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund "much earlier". Sri Lanka is seeking three to four billion dollars from the IMF to overcome its balance-of-payments crisis and boost depleted reserves. Dozens of Rajapaksa's lawmakers have turned against the administration and on Tuesday took seats on opposition benches in parliament. - AFP