|(All photos Tamil Guardian unless otherwise noted)|
Thousands of Tamils from across the North-East participated in the Ezhuka Tamil rally (Rise Up Tamil) in Jaffna today.
The rally, which was organised by the Tamil People's Council, raised awareness about key issues of concern for the Tamil people, including ongoing militarisation and state sponsored Sinhala colonisation of the Tamil homeland, the need for an international investigation into mass atrocities committed against the Tamil people, the continued detention of Tamils under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the need for a political solution based on a federal model which recognises the Tamil nation and its right to self-determination.
See full declaration here.
Organisers estimate that approximately 10,000 people attended the rally, making it the largest Tamil rights protest since the end of the armed conflict more than 7 years ago.
A procession from Nallur was joined by another from Jaffna University and gathered at Muttaveli for the main rally, which saw speeches from politicians and activists. As crowds gathered outside the famous Nallur temple, the arrival of Northern Province Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran signalled the start of the rally. After Justice Wigneswaran cermeoniously broke coconuts, crowds marched thorugh the streets of Jaffna, holding placards and chanting slogans.
Buses from across the North-East were organised to transport the thousands of attendees, with the rally procession stretching out across the streets of Jaffna. Disruptions and attempts by government-aligned paramilitary groups to stop protestors attending the rally were reported, but many were undeterred. People from across all 8 districts across the Tamil North-east travelled to Jaffna to join the rally.
Waving flags draped in the Tamil national colours of red and yellow, thousands from across all ages and regions marched, with posters calling for the freedom of the Tamil homeland from Sri Lankan military occupation.
|Justice Wigneswaran starts the march at Nallur|
|Protestors march by the destroyed Thileepan memorial, originally constructed in remembrance of the LTTE political leader who launched a hunger strike until death, demanding the freedom of the North-East.|
Student groups were at the forefront of the protest, with youth from Jaffna University starting another rally, which merged with the main procession at Nallur. As they marched along the streets of Nallur, past the spot where LTTE political wing leader Thileepan held his fast unto death 29 years ago, protestors held placards calling for the Sri Lankan military to leave the Tamil homeland and for the return of military occupied land. Shops across the peninsula had shut down in solidarity with the rally.
|Retailers in Jaffna closed all shops in support of today's rally.|
Civil society organisations, including the Mothers of the Disappeared from Valikamam North and the National Movement to Release Political Prisoners also took part in the procession. Relatives of the disappeared carried photogrpahs of their missing loved ones, as they continued to call for their wherabouts to be made known. Many of those missing have been disappeared for several years.
Dr Lakshman, co-chair of the Tamil Peoples’ Council (TPC) which organised the rally, outlined the main demands they had put forward to crowds at Muttaveli.
The protestors’ demands included an international investigation into genocide, a federal political solution, recognising the Tamil nation's right to self-determination and a halt to state-sponsored Sinhala colonisation in the Tamil homeland. Large posters with the demands written clearly in Tamil, English and Sinhala were displayed at the main rally.
|The protestors displayed their demands on banners in Tamil, English and Sinhala during the rally (Photograph @gajenmahen).|
Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran took to the main stage and said that this was not a rally against the Sinhala people, but one that was for the rights of Tamils. Despite promises, Tamil political prisoners remain detained, fishermen are losing their livelihoods and there has been a widespread introduction of drugs and alcohol – especially heroin – said the chief minister. To loud cheers, Justice Wigneswaran said the only acceptable political solution is autonomy for the North-East.
"This [rally] is not against any in power or in government. This is not against the central government. This is not against our Sinhala brothers and sisters. This is not against the Buddhist clery. Why, this is not even against the Ilankai Tamil Arasi Katchi," Mr Wigneswaran said to an applauding crowd.
"The North and East of Sri Lanka is the Tamil people's homeland. Granting them autonomy is a necessity of the times."
"If this country wants to go forward towards a political, social and economic future with peace and good relations then a federal political system could be the solution," he said as the crowd broke out in cheers.
"Our parties and our people are resolute on this. If the Tamil people and Sinhala people are to now at least live with equality and good relations then the only way is to respect the Tamil speaking people of the North-East's right to self-determination and grant them autonomy."
He went on to stress that a devolved Tamil federal state should have full power over land, police and finances. He also highlighted the Tamil people's desire for an international investigation into the mass atrocities committed against them in the final stages of the armed conflict.
This is a rally to demand our rights to the world, he added.
TPC co-chair Mr Vasantharajah called for all Tamils, regardless of political affiliation and region to unite behind the call for Tamil rights, reiterating the call for federalism for the North-East. His call was echoed by ITAK’s Prof Siththampalam who said the Tamil people would not accept Sinhala colonisation in the name of reconciliation.
Former parliamentarian and EPRLF head Suresh Premachandran, spoke of how the struggle for Tamil rights was not yet over. To rapturous applause and loud cheers from the thousands in the audience, he drew on the previous Ponghu Thamizh rallies and LTTE leader Prabhakaran, to speak of the demands put forward by the Tamil people.
TNPF leader Gajen Ponnambalam was the final speaker at the rally and spoke of how despite talks of a new constitution for the island, Sinhala leaders had made clear that only a unitary solution was acceptable. This rally had made clear the Tamil peoples’ political aspirations he said, noting that if they were not fulfilled rallies such as this would grow and spread across the North-East and diaspora.
See our live feed of the event on our twitter account here.