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'Don't panic,' Mexico president says as fuel shortages spiral

AFP  |  Mexico City 

Manuel urged Mexicans Wednesday not to panic as shortages spread across the country, caused by a crackdown on fuel theft that risks costing him support.

The says the shortages were triggered by his administration's decision to temporarily close some of company Pemex's pipelines -- part of his bid to wipe out rampant fuel theft that cost the country an estimated USD 3 billion in 2017.

But for a who campaigned on and a promise of more Mexican refineries to produce more cheap gasoline, the shortages have turned into a

At his daily press conference, -- an anti-establishment leftist who took office last month after a landslide election win -- vowed to keep up his fight against fuel theft and urged Mexicans not to make the shortages worse with panic buying.

"We're going to resist the pressure. I'm asking people to help us. How can you support us? By acting prudently and calmly, without panicking, without listening to alarmist and biased information," he said.

"There is enough in the country...We are in the process of returning to normal deliveries."

That was little comfort for customers like Alfonso Mendoza, a traveling who spent more than four hours waiting to fill up his car after a week of shortages.

He lives in the central city of Guanajuato, where some people spent the night in their cars, queued up outside the limited number of functioning service stations.

"I couldn't go to work today. I have to travel for my job, so it affects me a lot. It's not good, what (the president) is doing," said Mendoza.

"He's trying to catch the thieves, but we're the ones who get screwed over."

The pipeline closures have led to shortages in various places around Mexico, particularly in the center of the country, as service stations run out of fuel or limit customers to purchases of 10 liters (about two and a half gallons).

City is among those affected, though officials insist the fuel supply to the capital is normal and the shortages are being caused by panic buying.

said there were not enough tanker trucks in the country to compensate for the pipeline closures. The legal distribution system is also under greater pressure than usual because of the crackdown, he said.

"They turned off the pipelines and people who had been buying stolen fuel had to return to service stations. They didn't have enough volume to meet demand," he told AFP.

Analysts at warned the shortages could hit Latin America's second-largest economy if they continue.

"If the supply difficulties are prolonged in the affected zone, it could impact economic activity in the industrial and service sectors, as well as the prices of agricultural and other goods," they said in a note.

The consultancy warned the episode could "ding the president's popularity" and augur tough times ahead for the new administration.

"The faulty of the strategy to fight fuel theft shows some of the administration's weakness," it said.

"An combined with Lopez Obrador's centralized decision-making style, especially in politically sensitive issues such as gasoline, leads to inefficient and unplanned reactions that cause bigger problems."

Fuel theft gangs linked to Mexico's powerful drug cartels have turned illegal taps of Pemex's into a massive black-market industry.

There were 10,363 pipeline thefts in 2017, up from 186 in 2012, according to

Authorities say the crime is partly an inside job. confirmed Tuesday that Pemex's former is among those under investigation.

To crack down on fuel theft -- known in as "huachicol," or moonshining -- the government has deployed the military to escort fuel shipments and production facilities, inspecting workers as they enter and exit.

Lopez Obrador has also introduced legislation to reclassify fuel theft as a major crime not eligible for bail.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, January 10 2019. 00:40 IST