COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Thousands of produce traders protested for a third day in Sri Lankan streets Wednesday, halting business at the capital's central market over a new rule changing how they transport their goods.
At least 24 people have been hurt and 83 arrested in the protests over a rule that fruit and vegetables be transported in plastic baskets rather than sacks. The government says it wanted to stop colossal food waste when perishable produce is damaged in transport.
The traders say the baskets hold less produce, take up too much space in their shops and raise their transport costs, and they want the rule withdrawn. Some transport trucks already have been fined for using sacks.
Police used tear gas Tuesday at protesters at two markets in central Sri Lanka, who were smashing and burning vegetables on the streets, resulting in a clash that saw 21 policemen and at least three protesters injured, police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.
He said 83 people were arrested on suspicion of creating unrest and later released on bail.
Business came to a standstill Wednesday at the central market in Colombo, the capital, when the traders started a sit-in protest on a main road.
They lay on the road blocking traffic for hours and some burnt tires. Later they dispersed.
Trade Minister Johnston Fernando told a press briefing Monday that over 40 percent of Sri Lankan produce is wasted due to improper packaging and delivery methods and that consumers bear the brunt of the waste.
"This is not a practical move and it has caused unnecssary problems and hardships to the farmers and traders and finally, the consumer will be affected hardly," protester Sarath Nishantha, 40, said.
He said the law has almost doubled the cost of transport, loading and unloading goods, and traders will have to be increase their prices significantly.
"This law should be withdrawn immediately. Otherwise, the distribution of vegetables and fruits will be completely broken down, causing severe shortage of food," he said.
He said about 50 kilograms (110 pounds) could be stored in a sack while a basket handles half that weight. And a truck usually transports about 800 sacks, but could deliver only half that many baskets.