02/14/2012, 00.00
SRI LANKA

Govt ignores fuel protest by thousands of Catholic fishermen

by Melani Manel Perera
A Negombo men, women and children from Western Province block roads, torch street signs and burn tyres. They fear higher fuel prices will wipe out small-scale fishery. Fisheries minister agrees to subsidies but says price hike will go ahead.

Negombo (AsiaNews) – “We do not need relief assistance or subsidies, we only need humane and sustainable prices. Otherwise, the government will sanction our end and that of small-scale fishing,” some fishermen told AsiaNews. Since yesterday, thousands of them, mostly from Sri Lanka’s Western Province, have blocked roads in Negombo to protest higher fuel prices. So far, the government has ignored their demands. Card Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, Vicar General Farther Pattric Perera, Father Lester Nonis the Coordinator of Fisheries affairs and another Two Parish Priests of Negombo have come and talked to protesters and requested to stop the protest. They had come out in favour of the protest, trying to speak in person with Fisheries Minister Rajith Senarathna who, however, said that the government would provide subsidies but not reduce prices.

Fuel prices went up overnight Saturday. Diesel increased by 31 rupees a litre (US .25), gasoline increased by 12 rupees 8US $ 0.10  and kerosene increased by 35 rupees (US $ 0.30).

Protesting fishermen are from Negombo, Kochchikade, Wennappuwa, Marawila, Chilaw and Mannar, coastal villages and towns in the Western and North Western provinces. Some 5,000 men, women and children are from Negombo lagoon alone.

On Sunday, fishermen from the Northern Province raised black flags and moored their boats for a day in solidarity with protesters in Colombo.

The demonstration has been peaceful so far, but tensions flared yesterday when protesters torched some road signs and set fire to tyres.

“Usually, a fibber replaced plastic (FRP) boat spends LRK 3,000 (US$ 25) a day in fuel. With the new prices, it will take LKR 4,500 (US$ 37.5),” one fisherman said. “That is something we small fishermen cannot sustain.”

“This time it’s too much. They cannot bear up at all,” said Herman Kumara, national convener of National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), as he spoke about fishermen’s predicament.

Sri Lanka’s Private Bus Owners Association (LPBOA), the largest private bus operators union in the country with 20,000 private buses, also ended its strike last night after reaching an agreement with the government to raise fare by 20 per cent.

For his part, Minister Senarathna on state TV and radio slammed Catholic priests and by NGOs for supporting the fishermen’s protests. He insisted that subsidies, not prices, were negotiable.

Under the government’s scheme, fishermen would get back LKR 25 (US$ 0,20) for kerosene and 12 (S$ 0,10) for diesel.

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