Public Anger Boils Over

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Many services across the island were disrupted due to the national level hartal that was conducted after 69 years. Several protests were also launched in a number of areas. Railway trade unions and private bus owners withdrew from services at midnight on 5 May in support of the hartal. More than 2,000 trade unions and civil society organisations, including hundreds of unions in the health, transportation, railways, electricity, and education sectors, expressed support for the hartal.

Many trade unions supported this hartal seeking a prompt political solution to the on-going crisis, and a permanent solution to the continuous fuel and essentials shortage.

Several trade unions, including health, transportation, railways, electricity, and education sectors, decided to join the trade union action in solidarity with the nationwide hartal on 6 May.

Ceylon Today visited several protests and several locations around Colombo, where the national hartal was being observed.

The first stop of Ceylon Today was the Borella bus halt, where the Trade Unions Coordination Centre (TUCC) along 17 other trade unions, held a protest. The TUCC said that if the hartal on 6 May and the island-wide joint strike do not bear fruit, a continuous strike and continuous hartal will be launched on 11 May until the Government goes home. Even Central Bank officials stepped out and supported the hartal.

While wandering along the Borella-Maradana route, a few private bus drivers, who have parked their buses on a side, claimed that most strikes are conducted in order to achieve narrow political gain. They said that they would function as usual if they had diesel. It’s due to the diesel shortage that they have been unable to function.

The routes around the Borella, Maradana and Dematagoda areas were deserted like on a Sunday morning. These are locations, which are usually filled with people and busiest shops, were deserted though it was a Friday afternoon.

Then, Ceylon Today headed towards the Bastian Place bus halt, where many private and public sector inter-provincial buses function. It looked deserted but few locals were seen playing cricket.

When inquired, one of the players, who introduced himself as a worker in a nearby stall, noted that though they do not want to support the hartal but had to close their shops as the people who usually passby were not to be seen.

Another individual introduced himself as a vendor who sells refreshments on the buses. He noted that they had no choice but to stop working. If the buses are functioning as usual he would definitely take his bucket of goods and get onto a bus to make an extra rupee.

While heading back from Bastian Place bus halt we also found an interesting stall in front of Saunders Place, the locals served the ‘funeral meal’ in memory of the dead government and the President.

The Fort Bridge, in front of the Fort railway station, which usually sees a lot of foot traffic, was deserted. When Ceylon Today reached the Fort railway station, it had many passengers waiting for the delayed trains unsure whether they were cancelled or not. The station master’s room was also locked and only three officials were at the station to direct the passengers.

Ceylon Today also visited few protests led by the locals around the Kotikawatta junction and Kolonnawa junction, protestors noted that the locals have also held some protests around IDH road and Mulleriya Hospital.

Pettah Market, Keyzer Street, Malwatta Road and the Cross streets which are always hectic and filled with vendors and people, had only few pigeons, many crows and beggars wandering by. The workers who claimed that they were continuing to clear their stocks and clean their stores like on a normal day, said there is no use of supporting such political activities because none of it benefits them or directly  or indirectly.

Meanwhile, People staged a protest in front of the Balangoda Main Post Office to coincide with the islandwide hartal. The hartal movement was also supported by the Kegalle and Nuwara Eliya District by closing all shops. Employees of 57 factories in the Biyagama Free Trade Zone staged a protest blocking all three main entrances.

These protests that Ceylon Today saw during the hartal had a significant number of children participating as well. When Ceylon Today asked one child why he is protesting, he noted that his parents used to give him Rs 20 to buy a match box, he buys it for Rs 10 and spends the rest on sweets, but now when they give Rs 50 there is only Rs 5 left to buy some sweets. Isn’t that why we are all fighting?

Hartal at BIA

With the commencement of the active Hartal on 6 May, by the employees of the Katunayake Airport, all the employees engaged in the daily duties of the Airport were given leave and discharged from the Airport.

In support of the Hartal, the employees of the Katunayake Airport Inter Company Employees Union and the National Employees Union organised a protest campaign at noon on Friday.

The duty manager of the Katunayake Airport said that although the employees, who were engaged in daily duties at the airport, had left on leave on 6 May, the airport was operating normally and without any interruption to air operations.

A series of protest rallies were organised in Dambulla, Galewela, Naula, Sigiriya, etc. on the 6th, with shops putting up shutters and hoisting black flags in support of the hartal campaign.

Workers in private factories in the Dambulla Oya area of Dambulla, dressed in black and carrying black flags, marched about six kilometres along one of the nine main roads to Dambulla town in protest.

Another protest rally started by the Dambulla town volunteers, at the Gammudawa playground, blocked one side of the main road and marched towards the town and the economic centre in front of the Dambulla clock tower.

Hospitals also join

Employees of the Dambulla Base Hospital and several Government institutions also joined the protest in the afternoon. Lawyers working in the Dambulla Magistrate’s Court also marched to Dambulla town, near the Court premises after 12 noon and joined the protest.

Shops were closed in Jaffna in support of the hartal.

Citizens in Pelmadulla also participated in hartal.

The business community in Moneragala and Buttala also joined the hartal demanding the President to step down. Shops closed and black flags were hoisted.

In Akuressa a protest was launched in front of the main bus stand while all shops were closed and private busses and three-wheelers withdrew from service.

Public in Dickwella also launched a protest followed by a march calling for the President and the Government to step down.

A group of people also hoisted black flags in front of the bus stand in Elpitiya.

Underwear Protest

In a unique protest, male and female undergarments were hung on Police barricades set up near the Parliament (Polduwa Junction).

The protesters hung undergarments with various anti-government slogans written on them, demanding the President to step down immediately, on Friday (6) morning.

Meanwhile, Police fired tear gas and water cannons on protesters gathered at parliament entry roads on Friday evening.

A massive crowed including the members of the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) established a new agitation site called ‘Horu Go Gama’. This was after the Police tried to disperse the IUSF members who protested at Parliament entry road at Polduwa Junction on Thursday (5).

A massive crowd, who are agitated by the lukewarm conduct of both the Government and Parliament amid increasing burdens on the public, gathered in the area raising their displeasure of the country’s leaders, demanding the Government to resign immediately.

Even after the water cannon and tear gas attack, protesters firmly stood their ground and blocked all the entry roads to Parliament. As a result, the MPs could not leave the Parliament premises for few hours after the adjournment of the sitting.

SJB MPs surround Speaker’s office

Meanwhile, a group of SJB MPs stormed the Speaker’s office in Parliament and questioned Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on the Police attack on the protesters.

They also questioned the Speaker on the delay in providing a date to debate the No-Confidence Motion (NCM) submitted against the Government.

Serjeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando said all the MPs left Parliament premises safely using alternative roads.

Since the House was adjourned until 17 May, the protesters announced they would leave the site until then.

“We will come back again on 17 May. The MPs have 11 days to make a decision,” IUSF Convener Wasantha Mudalige said.

(Pix by Kelum Chamara & Amitha Thennakoon)

BY Nabiya Vaffoor, Methmalie Dissanayake, Nandun Gunathilake (Bibila), Siri Landage (Dickwella), Gayan Gunasekera (Elpitiya), T.K.G. Kapila (Katunayake), K.K. Ariyadasa (Dambulla), Nimal Bandagiriya (Opanayake), Bihadu Winuwara (Delgoda), K. Duminda (Biyagama), Y.A.S. Weerawansa (Balangoda), Gayan Rajapaksa (Kegalle) and Nita PathmaKumari (Norwood)