Islandwide tensions erupt over fuel price hikes

Buddhika Samaraweera

Citizens islandwide took to the streets in protest, obstructing roads and railway tracks in several areas yesterday (19), over the recent increase in fuel prices by the Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), with the protests turning fatal following the Police opening fire on protestors in Rambukkana.

The protests were attended by private bus owners, drivers, conductors, three-wheeler drivers, and the general public. People had parked vehicles blocking main roads and private buses were not in operation in many areas where the protests were held.

Following the CPC having announced a fuel price hike with effect from midnight on 18 April, filling stations in the Rambukkana area had stopped issuing fuel. However, the people who were waiting in queues near filling stations until midnight that day, started a protest in the Rambukkana area, demanding the release of fuel at the old prices. 

Accordingly, they staged a protest on 18 April from 1.30 a.m., blocking the Colombo-Kandy railway line in the Rambukkana area. The Rambukkana-Mawanella, Rambukkana-Kegalle and Rambukkana-Kurunegala main roads were also blocked due to the protests.

Meanwhile, it was reported yesterday evening that the Police had fired tear gas to disperse protestors who were engaged in the protest blocking the railway line in the Rambukkana area. There were also reports of the Police having opened fire. However, a senior Police official said that no information had been received with regard to such as of yesterday evening. 

Video footage being circulated on Facebook showed a person said to have been shot at by the Police, being taken to a hospital on a motorcycle. Several protestors who had been injured during the protest when the Police attempted to disperse them, had been admitted to the Kegalle and Rambukkana Hospitals, with video footage in circulation showing over 10 persons being brought to the said hospitals with gunshot injuries. One injured protestor admitted to the Kegalle Hospital has, it is learnt, since died of gunshot injuries.

Many private buses plying from Kandy to various areas also did not run yesterday. The owners, drivers, and conductors of the private buses, as well as the public, protested against the increase in fuel prices at several places in Kandy. During the protests, bus owners said that they would not be able to operate buses if they were not provided with fuel at concessionary rates.

In Galle too, private bus drivers, three-wheeler drivers, and the general public protested against the increase in fuel prices. Vehicles were also parked at several places in Galle, blocking main roads.

Meanwhile, owners, drivers, and conductors of private buses plying in the Katunayake and Negombo areas had gathered in the Katunayake 18th mile post area yesterday to protest against the increase in fuel prices. They were protesting by blocking the entrance to the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway. During the protest, a tense situation erupted between the Police and the protestors when the latter group tried to reverse a private bus driven to Colombo on the Colombo-Chilaw Main Road.

Furthermore, people in the Ratnapura area had blocked the Ratnapura Town and the Ratnapura New Town areas in three places to protest against the increase in fuel prices. They started the protests at 3.30 a.m. yesterday. 

A tense situation erupted between the Police and the protesters when the protesters gathered around the Ratnapura Police Station yesterday evening. There were reports that the Police had opened fire during the protest, which the Ratnapura Police denied when contacted by The Morning yesterday evening.

In addition, heavy traffic congestion was reported in the Rajagiriya, Battaramulla and Pelawatta areas yesterday evening due to a protest by a group of three wheeler drivers near the Parliament entrance road against the increase in fuel prices.

Also, the people of the Digana Town on the Kandy-Mahiyangana main road protested by crossing the Main Road yesterday. Protests had also been organised in Hingurakgoda, Baddegama, Gampola, Matugama, and Avissawella against the increase in fuel prices.

The LIOC had decided to increase the price of petrol by Rs. 35 per litre and diesel by Rs. 75 per litre with effect from midnight on 17 April. The revised LIOC fuel prices are: Petrol (92-Octane) – Rs. 338, Petrol (95-Octane) – Rs. 367, Petrol Euro 3 – Rs. 347, Auto Diesel – Rs. 289, and Super Diesel – Rs. 327.

The CPC also increased fuel prices with effect from midnight on 18 April. Accordingly, the price of a litre of 92-Octane petrol which was Rs. 254, was increased by Rs. 84 to Rs. 338; the price of a litre of 95-Octane petrol, which was Rs. 283, was hiked by Rs. 90 to Rs. 373; the price of a litre of Auto Diesel, which was Rs. 176, was hiked by Rs. 113 to Rs. 289; and that of a litre of Super Diesel, which was Rs. 254, by Rs. 75 to Rs. 329.

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