Sri Lanka torch flame protest at power price hike

Sri Lanka's main Marxist party took to the streets Monday carrying flaming torches in a novel protest against a 65 percent increase in electricity tariffs.

Hundreds of activists from the JVP, or People's Liberation Front, staged the demonstration at the Colombo suburb of Maharagama to press the authorities to reconsider the second electricity increase in two years.

"The increase is not because of higher generating costs, but because of huge corruption," JVP lawmaker Sunil Handunnetti told AFP. "We will keep up our night-time protests in other towns too."

The Ceylon Electricity Board announced last week it had received approval for the higher rates that will go into effect from Saturday. It raised tariffs by more than 20 percent in 2011.

Without the latest rise, the board said it would incur a loss of $750 million in 2013, but the tariff hike will bring the projected loss down to $225 million.

Under the new system, a household which consumes 120 kilowatt hours a month will have to pay 2,520 rupees ($20), up from 1,520 rupees.

Sri Lanka is one of the most expensive countries in Asia for electricity with a kilowatt hour costing up to 47 rupees ($0.37).

About two thirds of Sri Lanka's electricity is generated using coal or oil, while the balance comes from hydropower stations which cannot be used during severe droughts.