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Pada Yathra only a warm-up act - Mahinda

The Kandy-Colombo Pada Yathra was only a warm-up act and the Joint Opposition (JO) would achieve its goal with the help of the next mass protest, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in Colombo last evening.

Addressing a massive crowd at the Lipton Circus at the conclusion of the five-day Pada Yathra, which had wended its way along the Kandy road, Rajapaksa said the JO and it allies were ready to give the masses anything they asked for.

The JO organisers said they had been compelled to hold their final meeting at the Lipton Circus as the government had denied them a place in the city for that purpose. They said the government had ‘shamelessly’ prevented them from using all public grounds from Kandy to Colombo while extolling the virtues of good governance.

Rajapaksa said he and his colleagues such as UPFA MPs Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Dinesh Gunawardena would recall that they had once held a similar Pada Yathra from Colombo to Kataragama against the Premadasa government. Unlike the present-day rulers the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa had demonstrated he had the strength of character by refraining from making any effort to thwart the protest march, Rajapaksa said. "He did not kneel before judges in a bid to stop our march."

The incumbent government had remained in power for one year and eight months and without popular support, it was being propped by the CID, FCID and the Bribery Commission, former President Rajapaksa told a cheering crowd. "If they think we will give up our struggle for fear of being incarcerated, they are mistaken. Suppression will only steel our resolve to step up our fight as we have amply demonstrated in the past." The fate that befell previous dictators awaited the ‘duo’ in power, he said.

Rajapaksa said Ranil and Rathu Ali Petiya (‘Red Elephant Calf’) were playing a ball game. They were bowling full tosses so that both of them could score heavily, he said. The Rathu Ali Peitya had lost his ideological bearings and the onus was on his followers to guide him on the correct path, the former President said smilingly.

The government had resorted to draconian methods to increase its income, Rajapaksa said, claiming that VAT was charged even on medication for a common cold. The government was planning to ink the Economic and Technological Agreement (ETCA) to provide employment opportunities for foreigners at the expense of the local youth, Rajapaksa said. The farmers had been deprived of the much-needed fertiliser subsidy and they were compelled to dispose of their paddy for a song. Rajapaksa asked the crowd whether they knew who had benefited from the woes of paddy farmers. The crowd shouted, ‘Araliya, Araliya ... [brand name of rice produced by a miller in Polonnaruwa].’ A smiling President said only he had been accused of nepotism.

Rajapaksa said it was a pity that some public officials did not mind their language even after being elevated to high posts. Some of them spoke like 'Choppe Aiya' [a notorious thug who ruled the Colombo underworld decades ago]. The crowd chanted, "Pujithaya, Pujithaya, Pujithaya ...."

Rajapaksa said when military personnel were detailed to do civilian work for the benefit of the public during his tenure as President his detractors had screamed from the rooftops that war heroes were being used to clean culverts and gutters. But, today they were being thrown behind bars or made to languish on roads, he said, claiming that the incumbent government had, as first thing after its installation, thrown Buddhist monks into jail.

Looking around, the former President said the massive crowd consisted of people from all walks of like. He said he could see a number of medical specialists among them besides trade unionists, farmers, workers, teachers, artistes and concerned parents.

There were also media personnel attending the rally not on reporting assignments but by way of protest against the suppression of their freedom, the former President said.

All roads leading to the Town Hall were closed in view of the protest. Heavy traffic congestion could be seen in the area.

Meanwhile, a JO organiser told they had limited their protest to five days in view of the GCE (A/L) examination, which commences today.

NFF leader and Colombo District UPFA MP Wimal Weerawansa, addressing the gathering, said that time had come for those in power to be sent home. By excavating up the Hyde Park Corner to prevent the JO from holding its rally, the government had dug up its political grave, Weerawansa said.

Taking a swipe at his bete noir, JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Weerawansa said the red flag of the JVP was being used to clean pots and pans in the Sirikotha kitchen. It would be more honorable for the 'Rathu Ali Petiya' to join the UNP like his friend Ranawaka than to insult his party in that manner, the NFF leader said.

Weerawansa said they were ready to surround both the President's House and Temple Trees unless the government changed it course.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader and Colombo District UPFA MP Udaya Gammanpila said the Pada Yathra had exposed what he called the green under wear of the police who had gone running to courts to obtain orders to block the protest march, but in vain.

Gammanpila also warned that they would be compelled to march on the President’s House and Temple Trees if push came to shove.

The government was ruling the country according to the whims and fancies of India and the US, he said.

Delivering the welcome speech, UPFA MP Mahindananda Alutgamage said the government had moved seven courts—in Kandy, Mawanella, Kegalle, Thulhiriya, Gampaha, Attanagalle and Colombo—in a futile bid to thwart the Pada Yathra. It had also sent 27 ambulances before the protesters had completed the first 12 Kms. Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne had failed in his endeavour, Aluthgamage said.

UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara said the JO had booked the Hyde Park for its final meeting, but the police had subsequently informed him that permit was been cancelled. Therefore, the protesters had been compelled to converge on the Lipton Circus, crippling the city. It looked as if there had been a Hartal, the JO firebrand said.

Nanayakkara called upon the government to hold local government elections without further delay.

JO leader and Colombo District MP Dinesh Gunawardena said more than 1.5 million people had taken part in the Pada Yathra.

He urged the government to hold local government elections within three months.