The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) has called a dawn-to-dusk hartal on Saturday to protest against the hike in the prices of petroleum products and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's decision to decontrol petroleum product pricing.

The LDF State committee decided to organise the hartal at a hurried meeting held here close on the heels of the Centre announcing its decision to decontrol petroleum product pricing and to effect a sharp increase in the prices of petrol, diesel, cooking gas and kerosene.

Briefing reporters after the LDF panel meeting here on Friday, front convener Vaikom Viswan termed the UPA government's decision a major blow, particularly to the people of Kerala who were dependent on goods brought in from different parts of the country. He came down heavily on what he termed attempts of Congress leaders to justify the Central decision and their demand that the State should forego the additional revenue from the price hike so that its impact could be made lighter.

“How can they take the brief to defend a decision that hurts the people of Kerala? Where is the question of foregoing the additional revenue if there is no price increase at all? It is most unfortunate that persons like Leader of the Opposition Oommen Chandy are coming up with such arguments,” Mr. Viswan said and pointed out that this was the third hike in petroleum prices effected by the UPA government within the last one year. The LDF convener said the decision to do away with the system of administered pricing of petroleum products was more harmful than the price hike. Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani had made such a demand over a month ago.

The UPA government had accepted the demand without any sense of shame and in gross disregard for the recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Commi- ttee on Oil and Natural Gas against decontrol of petroleum product pricing. With this decision, the UPA government had thrown the oil sector open to the dictates of private oil monopolies. “This is nothing but an assault on the people,” he said.