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100,000 Tamils march in London over Sri Lanka’s concentration camps

Over one hundred thousand expatriate Tamils in Britain marched Saturday, June 20, through central London to express their outrage at international inaction over Sri Lanka’s massacre of tens of thousands of Tamils and the suffering of hundreds of thousands more enduring starvation, disease, disappearance, rape and torture in Colombo’s internment camps.


Dressed in black, carrying placards and several hundred Tamil Eelam flags, the protesters marched from Hyde Park to rally at Embankment. The event was organised by the British Tamil Forum.


The protestors began forming up at midday and began their march at 2:00 p.m. By the time the lead protestors reached Haymarket, the hundred thousand-strong column stretched the mile-long length of Piccadilly and up

Park Lane
. The rally began at 5.30 p.m.

To facilitate the march, the Police closed off traffic in one direction along the

three-lane Park Lane
and Piccadilly roads and along Haymarket, past
Parliament Square
and one direction of the thoroughfare along the Embankment.


Hundreds of red and yellow Tamil Eelam flags fluttered in the summer breeze as the marchers chanted slogans, handed out leaflets to tourists and spectators crowding the pavements and balconies of central London. Several Union Jacks were carried by the protestors.


“The protests we have been doing [in the Diaspora centres], at last has opened the conscience of the Western world,” a BTF spokesman said. “For example, the mainstream media has begun to expose the scale of the tragedy suffered by our people.”


“Our struggle has now shifted to the hands of the Diaspora,” he said.


“We have gathered here today to begin the next chapter of our long struggle to come.”


Tamil expatriates were joined by delegations from Columbian, Kurdish, Palestinian and some Indian communities in Britain, as well civil liberties and social justice groups.


At the front of the protestors’ column were mobile street theatres depicting Sri Lanka’s militarized concentration camps where hundreds of thousands of Tamils are detained without access to sufficient food or medicine and suffering escalating abuse.


Groups of Tamil people, including – elderly, children, families, dressed in blood-stained clothing and bandages marched within squares of barbed wire bearing signs with names of known concentration camps. Other protestors dressed in military uniform threateningly wielded batons to symbolize the ongoing brutality.


Leaflets handed out set out the protestors’ demands about Sri Lanka’s abuses: “[1] Stop the disappearances, rapes and torture occurring daily at the internment camps, and find all those who have already gone missing [2] Free people from the camps immediately so that they can return to their normal way of life [3] Bring the perpetrators of the genocide against the Tamils to justice.”


Another leaflet stated: “The Tamil community, disappointed and embittered by the failure of the UK and other international powers to prevent the recent carnage despite constant and repeated warnings, are demanding that the international community must at least now act decisively to save the estimated 300,000 civilians in these camps, who remain in grave danger.”


The protestors gathered on Embankment by BlackfriarsBridge where a stage had been set up, decorated in Tamil colours of red and yellow and a banner demanding “Free Tamils from Nazi style concentration camps! Prosecute the war criminals of the Sri Lankan State!”


The rally was addressed by British political personalities, including Tony Benn, Simon Hughes MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP, as well as Tamil and British human rights and social justice activists.


Veteran politician Tony Benn condemned the Sri Lankan state’s violence against the Tamils as crimes against humanity in which Britain continues to play an unacceptable. He also criticised the British media for the woeful lack of coverage the conflict in Sri Lanka has received, compared to similar conflicts around the world.


Raji Nesaraja, representing the Tamil Youth Organisation (TYO), said the recent events in Sri Lanka were “nothing short of genocide”.


In a stirring speech that illustrated the strong feelings amongst young Tamils in the UK, she went on to say that, following repeated and desperate warnings of an impending bloodbath, young Tamils were left dumbfounded and disappointed by the UN’s complete lack of response.


She however expressed her optimism in the awakening of all sections of the British Tamil community in the past few months, and, observing that “we are witnessing a global uprising of Tamils,” vowed the Tamil struggle would be taken forward.


Jan Jananayagam, who stood as an independent candidate at the 4 June European election, winning a historic record of 50,000 votes for an independent, urged everyone to work tirelessly until the Tamils of Sri Lanka enjoy the same rights that Tamils take for granted in the UK.


She also reminded the crowd of the power of their vote in a genuine democracy, and urged them to ensure they make their individuals vote count during the next UK general election towards the cause of stopping Sri Lanka’s genocide..


Andy Higginbottom, secretary of the Columbia Solidarity campaign and lecturer in human rights at Kingston University, called claims that the LTTE used civilians as human shields during the conflict the “first lie of the international media” and the “first propaganda victory of the Sri Lankan government”. He went on to denounce the inaction of the UN during the conflict, and the pitiable resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council following the conflict, an “absolute and utter disgrace”.


Simon Hughes MP, a senior Liberal Democrat and long-time supporter of the Tamils, praised the “fantastic courage and determination” that UK Tamils have shown in the past few months, and assured the crowd that there were many non-Tamils that supported them in their aspirations.


Cllr Julian Bell, leader of the Ealing Labour Party and researcher for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG-T) admitted that members of the APPG-T share the Tamil community’s feelings of being let down by Britain’s Labour government.


He said the APPG-T were working hard to ensure that the food and medical aid that UK Tamils collected and sent to Sri Lanka on board the Mercy Mission ship, which was recently turned away by the Sri Lankan authorities, would still reach the desperate Tamil civilians there.


Dan Mayor, national organiser for the Socialist Worker Party, angrily dismissed complaints about the alleged police cost during the 73 day Tamil protest at Westminster, saying that the Britain had made much more money through the sale of military equipment to Sri Lanka.


He blamed the US/UK led ‘War on Terror’ for masking the political question in Sri Lanka and weakening the Tamils’ position and making possible Sri Lanka’s brazen onslaught against the Tamils.


Jeremy Corbyn MP, Labour politician and chairman of the human rights organisation Liberation, called for a complete economic boycott of Sri Lanka, saying “the tourism must stop, the arms must stop, the trade must stop”.


Tim Martin, former aid worker and director of the charity Act Now, was loudly cheered by the crowds as he thanked them for the huge support he received from UK Tamils during his recent 21-day hunger strike in

Parliament Square
. Revealing that Bob Geldoff and several other international celebrities have begun pledging their support for the Tamils struggle against Sinhala oppression, he urged UK Tamils to “keep on fighting” for the freedom of their people in Sri Lanka.


Police presence was light throughout the event. Officers closing off side roads, so protestors could pass and guiding tourists and others seeking to reach places on the other side of the column of marchers.


Officers worked with several hundred Tamil volunteers to keep the crowd moving steadily and there were no riot police, in contrast to some other major protests in London. Media helicopters and police chopper remained aloft for the duration.

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