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 Post subject: Sri Lanka spends the day in the dark
 Post Posted: Mon Apr 04, 2005 11:12 pm 
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Sri Lanka spends the day in the dark

© Independent Online 2004

Colombo - Sri Lanka was hit by a nationwide power cut on Monday, just weeks after the state-run electricity utility warned of possible blackouts unless the government helps settle its debts and ups tariffs.

The outage comes as trade unions threatened to strike strike over government plans to restructure the loss-making Ceylon Electricity Board, which they see as a veiled privatisation.

Trade unions said workers were not responsible for the power failure, and a senior board official ruled out sabotage.

"There is a big failure in the power supply but we don't know the exact reason," said board general manager Ranjith Fonseka.

'It's not sabotage'

"It's not sabotage. The trade unionists are straightforward people, they will not resort to anything like this without prior notice," he added.

When disgruntled Ceylon Electricity Board workers went on strike in 1996, the island went without power for four days.

The board has debts of about 60 billion rupees ($601-million) to private power suppliers and to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation for fuel it has purchased to generate thermal power.

Chairman Ananda Gunasekara told Reuters in late February the board was struggling to stay afloat, and needed the government to raise electricity tariffs. He was unavailable for comment on Monday.

The Sri Lankan state generates around 50 percent of the island's power supply through a combination of thermal and hydro power stations, with private generators supplying the balance.

Sri Lanka produces no crude oil of its own and must import all of its fuel requirements, which the state then subsidises to consumers by keeping prices down.

Crude oil prices rose more than 33 percent in 2004, helping push the balance of payments into deficit.

Earlier plans to revamp the electricity board and break it into eight government-owned companies were derailed by trade union protests.

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