* Protesters number only a few hundred in Sri Lanka
* Unions say people put off by threat of layoffs
* Government says demonstrations simply failed
By Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal
COLOMBO, May 21 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's opposition parties
and trade unions accused the government on Tuesday of
threatening state employees with the sack if they took part in
planned street protests against a sharp rise in electricity
Only a few hundred people joined the demonstrations,
coordinated by the political opposition and trade unions,
despite expectations of much larger crowds on the streets of
The government rejected the accusations, saying that the
planned walkout had simply failed.
Sri Lanka has more than 1.3 million state sector employees
out of a total population of around 21 million people, and any
strike by them could cripple the $59 billion economy.
Major trade union action, including extended strikes, have
led to governments being toppled in the past.
"The government has threatened the trade unions and workers
by saying they will be kicked out of their jobs," John
Amaratunga, a legislator from the main opposition United
National Party, told parliament.
Chandrasiri Mahagamage, secretary of the All Ceylon Port
Common Workers Association which is part of the Trade Union
Alliance, said a top official was at the main entrance to the
port holding a camera to intimidate protesting workers.
"The (port) management threatened to fire employees who took
part in today's trade union action," he said.
Most trade unions affiliated to the opposition in state-run
companies object to the government's decision to raise domestic
electricity prices by up to 59.4 percent. The price hike came
into effect on April 20.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling coalition, which has
more than a two-thirds majority in parliament including some
lawmakers who defected from the opposition, has not faced mass
protests since it came to power in 2005.
The government's Information Department said that 93.5
percent of public sector employees showed up for work on
Tuesday, 3.5 percent higher than the average daily attendance.
"We have not interfered or threatened," Deputy Plantation
Industries Minister Earl Gunasekara told reporters. "A strike
will cripple normal day-to-day life, but today everything
functioned even better than on a normal day."
(Reporting by Shihar Aneez; editing by Mike Collett-White)