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Protests expected as Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa plans to attend COP26

US Tamils protesting in New York earlier this year, as Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited the United Nations.

Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be travelling to the United Kingdom for the first time since taking office to attend the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26 in Glasgow next month, with protests expected to greet his arrival.

Foreign affairs minister G L Peiris told the Daily Mirror that Rajapaksa would be attending COP26 “at the invitation of the British Prime Minister”.

This would be Rajapaksa’s first high profile public visit to the United Kingdom, with British Tamils across the country already planning demonstrations and protests.

Rajapaksa previously served as Sri Lanka’s defence secretary and oversaw a military campaign that saw hospitals shelled and tens of thousands of Tamils killed. He has repeatedly vowed not to prosecute those accused of war crimes, which includes senior military generals and his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is currently Sri Lanka’s prime minister.

“All Sri Lankan war criminals, including the Rajapaksa siblings, must know that they cannot escape justice for the genocide they committed,” said Siva, a British Tamil activist, who is part of a group working on demonstrations for when Rajapaksa arrives.

During his previous tenure as Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa visits to the United Kingdom were met with widespread protests.

In 2010, Rajapaksa was greeted on his arrival at London’s Heathrow airport by hundreds of Tamil protestors, who also demonstrated outside of the luxury Park Lane hotel where he was staying. He was due to speak at the prestigious Oxford Union, but the scale of the protests soon led to the speech being cancelled.

Read more: Hundreds protest at LHR, Rajapaksa's arrival unconfirmed

In 2012, Mahinda Rajapaksa once more travelled to the UK, where the Queen today shook his hand at a Commonwealth leaders’ lunch as thousands of Tamil demonstrators protested outside. The protests attracted nationwide media coverage and led to Rajapaksa cancelling a keynote speech in the City of London.

See more from The Guardian here, BBC here, ITV here and The Times here.

And in 2014, as the Commonwealth Games came to Glasgow in Scotland, more protests greeted the Sri Lankan president, who missed the opening ceremony of the games as well as a Commonwealth First World War commemoration service.

“Though Sri Lanka may be an island of impunity, we will make sure that wherever they go anywhere in the world, they will be met with protests and the risk of arrest for their crimes,” Siva continued.

“We will not stop until justice has been served.”


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