Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for April 11th, 2009

Tamils Make Their Point in London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th April, 2009

At the beginning of this week, Sri Lankan Tamil demonstrators — protesting about what they see as the international community’s inaction to counter the humanitarian crisis in the Vanni region of the island, where government forces are conducting what they hope will be a final assault on rebel-held areas — brought Central London’s traffic to a standstill by occupying Westminster Bridge. They were then persuaded to move onto Palace Green, opposite the Houses of Parliament, even though that is technically illegal under New Labour’s draconian legislation curbing freedom of expression. Simon Hughes, MP (alongside whom I spoke at a big Tamil gathering in Brent not long ago) has been instrumental in brokering a deal between the demonstrators and the police, whereby the numbers of protestors will be reduced to 400 and at least one of the two young men who have been on hunger strike for the past few days will end his fast.

The demonstrations have certainly brought the issue of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority to public attention and a few newspapers, such as The Guardian, have given informed and sympathetic coverage to the question. Whether the Sri Lankan government is listening is another matter, or indeed whether the international community will show the necessary political will to mediate. The Tamil Tigers who have been fighting to try to set up a independent Tamil statelet are no angels, of course, and there have been worrying reports of them preventing civilians leaving the disputed areas, as well as allegedly press-ganging youngsters into military service. The important thing, however, is that a situation is arrived at in which humanitarian agencies can work effectively in he Vanno and in camps for displaced persons, and journalists are allowed in to report accurately what is happening. The demonstrators in London are right to argue that the world should not just sit idly by.

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