A phobia about 'grease devils' has spread around Sri Lanka in recent weeks, triggering vigilante action by villagers in rural areas against suspects - sometimes due to mistaken identity.
"Everybody is looking at each other in suspicion," Kasthuri Anuradanayaka, a senior official of the opposition United National Party in the island's north central area where some local polls are to be held soon, told reporters.
"When a visitor comes to a village, people known to be hospitable look as if you are a 'grease devil'.
"Our village folk are gripped by fear, especially women."
Angry residents in several areas claimed that authorities are 'sheltering' grease devils leading to protests around police stations and stoning of vehicles belonging to the military.
Last week a mob killed an innocent policeman who tried to rescue a drunken fisherman who was mistakenly taken by residents to be a "grease devil".
Authorities have denied speculation that the state is unleashing grease devils on the population in a bid to spread fear and expand military control over the civilian population.
On Thursday President Mahinda Rajapaksa said a three decade old emergency rule which gave extensive powers of arrest and detention to authorities will be lifted.
"Just before elections something or the other comes up to disturb the polls," lamented Anuradanayaka.The UNP is battling a string of electoral defeats and are also regularly jolted by the spectre of yet another effort by reformists to oust it leader Ranil Wickremasinghe and his tactics to outsmart them.