Written and photography by A.B Ratnayake
Undoubtedly inspired to some degree by the mass protests in Egypt, the ‘Million Man March’, originally planned to be held on January 26 finally occurred on Wednesday the 9th of February. Falling well short of the intended one million, an estimated 2000 to 3000 protesters took to the streets marching from Town hall to Punchi Borella and later onto Welikada Prison. However by the junction the majority of protesters and UNP party members departed. Before the march, UNP leaders addressed a large crowd at Vihara Maha Devi Park. Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said the UNP will protest until the formation of a UNP government defeating the Rajapaksa regime and interacted with the crowd asking how much basic food items had increased. The largest applause from the faithful UNP audience was reserved for UNP leadership challenger Sajith Premadasa, who echoed the need for political change as well as the issue of rising costs. Demonstrators conducted a peaceful protest marching swiftly through the peak hour traffic, a marked contrast to the dangerous scenes on Friday night near Welikada prison, where according to UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya ‘Several persons were injured and vehicles were badly damaged when an armed group attacked the protesters with swords, bicycle chains, knives, iron rods and Molotov cocktails’. Protesters on Wednesday chanted in a colorful manner, shouting varied slogans from rising cost of basic food items, to press freedom and the release of Sarath Fonseka. The main rallying point was that of increased food and living costs, Fathima Rafeek, a mother of four, held a banner that said “Can’t bear Rajapaksa ruling” to which she attached two small bags showing the price of rice and dhal. The Previous day the DNA and JVP parties held a peaceful protest under heavy security demanding the release of Sarath Fonseka outside Welikada prison. An estimated 3000 protestors chanted anti-government slogans and carried placards. Among them was Anoma Fonseka who asked the crowd not to give up their struggle until her husband was released. With local government elections coming up and a number of issues to rally about, one would imagine protests of this manner will continue.