06/04/2008, 00.00
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Protests against Colombo government, no action against inflation

by Melani Manel Perera
For president Rajapaksa, in Rome for the FAO summit, the priority is to increase food production to meet domestic demand. But citizens and opposition parties complain that the government is doing nothing against inflation, and are asking for reductions in public spending.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Widespread protests were held in Sri Lanka yesterday, denouncing the government over the sharp rise in the price of petrol, and the rapid rise in the general cost of living.  Last week, the government announced increases of 90% for train fares, and 27% for public buses.

Previously, on June 2, the two main opposition parties - the United National Party (UNP) and the SLFP  Mahajana Wing - organised a protest called "Janabala Kahala Nadaya": they asked all of the drivers of Colombo and the surrounding area to stop their vehicles for a few minutes at noon, sounding their horns and flashing their headlights as a sign of protest over the government's inability to rein in the cost of living.  During the protest, one driver told AsiaNews that "fuel prices are going up, but our salaries are not.  Government officials enjoy fuel allowances, but we pay out of our own pocket ". Ruben Silva, another demonstrator, observes that "many people are poor, and earn their living from day to day.  Some days we do not earn enough, but prices still rise ".

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in Rome yesterday for the United Nations summit on food, maintains that the country's highest priority is that of "increasing agricultural production, dairy production, fishing, to ensure sufficient food for the population".  "Sri Lanka will not use farmland for biofuels".

 But Tissa Attanayake, secretary general of the UNP, maintains that the government could reduce its own spending, for example "by reducing the number of members in its 'mega-cabinet', and the number of presidential advisors", and that in order to contain the cost of living, it would be enough to reduce the high taxes on petrol.

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