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‘Stop, stop genocide!’ - Hundreds of British Tamils protest against Sri Lankan president at COP26

Hundreds of British Tamils gathered in Glasgow today, where world leaders were attending the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, to protest against the presence of Sri Lanka's president and accused war criminal Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“Go back Gotabaya!” chanted the protestors, as they lined the south side of the River Clyde directly across the from COP26 conference venue, waving Tamil Eelam flags and holding placards denouncing the Sri Lankan president.

During his tenure as Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, Rajapaksa oversaw a military offensive that bombed hospitals and executed surrendering Tamils as tens of thousands were killed. The period, one of the darkest in the island’s history, has still not seen justice, with the Sri Lankan government steadfast in its refusal to participate in any international accountability mechanism.

"Sri Lankan government, terrorist government!" chanted the protestors, as they were joined by others who had come to Glasgow from across the world for a range of causes, in what became a festive atmosphere. The Tamil protest however was gathering a growing crowd, even catching the attention of the BBC.

“We want the people involved in the genocide to be named and held accountable,” a young Tamil activist told reporters. “We are here to fight for our rights.”

“We’re here to show the world who Rajapaksa really is,” said another protestor. “He is a genocidaire.”

Many of the activists had come on coaches or trains from across the country to join the protest. Earlier in the day, protestors gathered outside the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Dunblane where Rajapaksa had been staying after a flurry of messages were shared. The activists initially had blockaded the hotel entrance but then voluntarily moved from the front gates and lined the road.

Rajapaksa’s convoy of tinted vehicles eventually left the hotel, exiting past the crowds of flag-waving protestors.

Read more here: An early wake up call for Rajapaksa as protestors gather outside hotel

At COP26, he bumped elbows with British prime minister Boris Johnson, before delivering an address in which he spoke of Sri Lanka’s “rich, philosophical heritage, shaped by Lord Buddha's teachings”.

“It’s a shame that a man like Rajapaksa, a man that orchestrated massacres is allowed to speak on a global platform,” one protestor told the Tamil Guardian from Glasgow. “It’s greenwashing a genocide. Climate justice cannot be separated from justice for genocide.”

The protests follow a high-profile campaign by Scottish Tamils which included projections on Scottish landmarks and full-page adverts in newspapers.

“Rajapaksa may have complete impunity in Sri Lanka,” said one protestor. “But we will make sure that he, his regime and the whole world knows that we will never forget his crimes. Any time and place he steps foot outside of the island, we will be there, demanding he be held accountable.”

“One day, there will be justice.”

See our Twitter thread with live coverage of the protest below.

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