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London protest over Rajapaksa's dismal human rights record
ON 10 June, Tamils in London gathered in front of the Commonwealth Office to protest against Sri Lanka's president Mahinda Rajapaksa's visit and against the UK prime minister Gordon Brown.
Despite the fact that Sri Lanka has been condemned as having one of the worst records in the world for human rights and, on 21 May 2008, UN member states refused to elect Sri Lanka to the human rights council, Rajapaksa had been invited to attend a two-day Commonwealth mini-summit in London on 9-10 June.
It's 25 years next month since 'black July' in 1983 when thousands of Tamils were killed by Sinhala thugs, largely organised by the political elite of that time.
The then president, J R Jayewardene, made no attempt to protect the Tamils. Instead, he infamously said: "I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people. Now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion. The more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here. Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy." (quoted in the Daily Telegraph, UK 11 July 1983)
Since then the country has been plunged into economic turmoil and bloody war. Among all the successors of JR Jayewardene the current president - Rajapaksa - is regarded as the most racist president that the country has ever seen. There is a widespread fear in the country that 'black July' may be repeated, only this time it will cost more lives and long term economic damage.
AT THE 10 June demo the Metropolitan police were forced to extend the gathering space as the number of people who turned up to protest exceeded 1,000. A small number of Sri Lankan government supporters also turned up with national flags to support Rajapaksa's policies - probably organised by the Sri Lankan embassy.
The Socialist Party's slogans were welcomed by the protesters. When interviewed by the leading local Tamil television 'Thebam', Socialist Party member Lois Austin pointed out: "This protest is very important as it will send a message to both Rajapaksa and Gordon Brown: Tamils living in this country will not be fooled by a promise of peace in the distant future. Gordon Brown, together with Rajapaksa, has no intention of solving the problem in Sri Lanka or respecting Tamils' right to self-determination."
This argument - stated in the Socialist Party's leaflet - had a massive impact on the protesters. Quite significantly some even shouted out the slogans.
One of the Socialist Party's slogans said: "Killing of Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Upcountry people must be stopped. And peace negotiations must be started immediately with the representatives of ordinary people." This is significant as, recently, many civilian Sinhala people have fallen victims to a number of bus bombs in the south.
The United Socialist Party (USP - the Socialist Party's counterpart in Sri Lanka) has been arguing for united action for a long time. In the recent eastern provincial election the USP was the only left force that participated. In some constituencies the USP had pushed back support for communalist forces such as JVP (People's Liberation Front).
On the London protest we ran out of leaflets and sold all the copies of The Socialist that we had brought - around 50 copies. Even though there was no material in it on Sri Lanka, its front page chimed with the mood of the demonstrators. Calling for a new workers' party it said 'Don't just be angry. Get active'.
A Sri Lankan passer-by who stopped to support the protest said: "I am struggling to support myself here and people in Sri Lanka. Prices are rocketing. The majority of the people now live in utter poverty. Tamils have suffered a great deal in that country and elsewhere. It's time we all unite to put an end to this." The man - who is Sinhalese - came back five minutes later asking: "Where is the socialist I was talking to?" and gave us a financial donation.
In The Socialist 18 June 2008:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party campaigns
Post office closures
Socialist Party workplace news