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* Hundreds protest against using Sri Lanka's idling Mattala airport for paddy storage
Fri, Sep 4, 2015, 10:43 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Sept 04, Colombo: Hundreds of people in Hambantota district took to streets to protest Sri Lankan government's decision to use the idling Mattala Rajapaksa International airport in the former president's home constituency to store this season's paddy crop.

As many as 500 people carrying placards and black flags lined up the streets to protest using the warehouses of the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa's namesake airport for storing paddy. Shops in the town remained closed despite a police request to open them.

The government last week announced that from this week onwards, the Paddy Marketing Board will use a cargo terminal of the airport to store the rice harvest from the Hambantota region.

The employees of the airport loyal to the former president protested on Wednesday when the first truck load of paddy was delivered to the warehouse, AFP reported.

The airport, known as another white elephant project of the former president, operates at a huge loss and is currently used by a single airline, the budget carrier flydubai, which operates one flight into the airport with only a few passengers arriving each week.

The national carrier SriLankan Airlines in January decided to stop all flights to Mattala as operating flights to the second international airport was a huge drain on the already heavily debt-laden carrier.

However the government has not made any decision to completely shut down the airport, but looking for ways to make it useful.


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