Death Blow

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The country has been slowly pushed towards anarchy over the past several weeks, with the people having had enough of fuel and gas queues, extended power cuts, shortage of essential food and medicine.

Incensed by poor governance of the incumbent regime, the people took to the streets in protest, occupying the public spaces for well over a week, demanding the resignation of the President and the Government.

However, the response shown by the authorities to the largely middle-class, white collar workers gathered at Galle Face seemed, at best ignorant and at worst arrogant. 

Although the entire Cabinet of Ministers resigned, in a bid to placate the angered public and a new set of Ministers were appointed, this did not appease the masses.  

While the peaceful protest was gathering momentum, people in many parts of the island started coming on to the streets, in solidarity with the protesters at Galle Face, the Government dealt another death blow to the suffering masses. 

On late Monday night, the Government announced a massive increase of ‘fuel at the pump’. State-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), which comes under the purview of newly appointed Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera, said that from midnight Monday fuel prices at the pump have been increased.

Accordingly, the price of a litre of 92 octane petrol, the type of petrol used by the vast majority of motorists has been increased to Rs 338 a litre, 95 octane petrol to 

Rs 373 a litre, ordinary diesel to Rs 289 a litre and super diesel to Rs 329 a litre.

Meanwhile, newly sworn-in Cabinet Minister for Transport, Dilum Amunugama, announced that bus fares will be hiked by 35 per cent. Accordingly, the minimum bus fare rate for adults, which was first increased to Rs 20 in March this year, has now been increased to Rs 27.

Consequently, wheat flour prices were increased by Rs 40 per kilo and immediately the bakery owners announced that the price of a 450g loaf of bread will henceforth be increased by Rs 30, dealing another blow to the already suffering masses. 

This unprecedented fuel price increase and the resulting ripple effect on many sectors sent shock waves across society, with many desperate citizens taking to the streets in protest. With the announcement of the price hike, people in areas such as Hingurakgoda, Baddegama, Digana, Galle, Madampe, Gampola, Kandy, Kegalle, Matugama, Avissawella, etc. too took to the streets.

By last evening, the situation in Rambukkana had turned into chaos and violence, with the Police shooting at protesters who had blocked the highway and railway tracks. The Police announced that in order to control the crowds they had to fire tear gas into the crowds. However, this incensed the protesting crowds even further and they had started pelting stones at the Police. 

Unfortunately, the Police then fired at the people, and by the time this edition went to print, 24 people, including eight Policemen, were injured in the melee. One person was recorded dead and several others who were critically injured were receiving treatment at the Kegalle Hospital. 

The rising prices and severe shortage of food and essential items is going to worsen over the next few weeks. The Speaker recently warned the public of a famine in the next few months. The people are already desperate. What was witnessed in Rambukkana was the people turning into a mob and resorting to violence in their desperation. And, to make things worse, the Police responded by using firearms against unarmed public. 

The question now is where will the country head in the next few days? Whatever the decisions the authorities will take, they must think not twice, but thrice before acting. 

They must keep in mind that the people are watching. There are thousands already on the streets, in many parts of the country. It only takes a few bad decisions on the part of the Government for total anarchy to descend on the country. Therefore, all must act with caution!