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Sri Lanka Protests Price Hikes

February 10, 2001

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Tens of thousands of demonstrators led by the main opposition party arrived in the capital Friday, ending a five-day march to protest against spiraling food and utility prices.

``We will use people’s power to send the president home,″ United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told the protesters, referring to President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

In one of the largest political protests since Kumaratunga assumed power in 1994, the demonstrators marched into Colombo with banners and placards reading, ``Prices are soaring″ and ``We cannot bear the cost of living.″

Taxes and utility prices have been increased in recent months to fund the fight against the separatist insurgency of the Tamil rebels. The government has increased the price of electricity, diesel fuel, flour and cigarettes and liquor.

Some of the demonstrators had walked 55 miles from the town of Kandy, where the march began Sunday.

The procession included four elephants, bands, cyclists and traditional dancers. Hundreds of armed policemen kept guard.

``I have nine children, my husband is dead and we are finding it hard to survive,″ said Rita Fernando, 57, who was at the rally. She said none of her children had permanent employment.

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