Rajapakse endures brickbats and snowballs in London
[TamilNet, Friday, 03 December 2010, 02:40 GMT]
Mass demonstrations in London condemning Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse as a war criminal took place Thursday evening in front of his luxury hotel and the Sri Lankan High Commission where he held a glittering reception for some of his supporters in lieu of his abortive address to the Oxford Union. Over seven thousand Tamil expatriates and others braved the snow falls inundating Britain this week to crowd Park Lane, where The Dorchester is located, to demand Sri Lankan officials be prosecuted for war crimes, while hundreds more filled the short street in front of the High Commission. President Rajapakse’s reception began with an organising mix-up that left some of his select guests waiting to be allowed into the mission, and ended with a flurry snowballs thumping into his departing police-escorted motorcade.
Rajapakse in backseat
Several thousand demonstrators gathered from 4pm on Park Lane in front of The Dorchester, carrying placards and hundreds of Tamil Eelam flags, and chanting slogans denouncing President Rajapakse and his regime.
Activists handed out leaflets along Oxford Street and Piccadilly to tourists and commuters highlighting Sri Lanka’s war crimes and urging public support for international war crimes investigations.
At Park Lane dozens of reporters filmed the demonstration and interviewed protestors.
“These people are asking for justice,” Kumar Kumarandran, a spokesman for the British Tamil Forum, one of the groups which organised the event, told reporters.
“We want an independent, international investigation into war crimes and crimes and humanity committed by President Rajapakse and his government,” he said, gesturing at the plush hotel opposite.
At 6pm some of protestors, mainly university students, left the main demonstration and walked the short distance to the Sri Lankan High Commission where they began another demonstration.
Inside, a reception hosted by President Rajapaksa to which selected guests - overwhelmingly Sinhalese – had been invited was beginning.
The glittering event had been organised in lieu of President Rajapska’s address to the Oxford Union, which the society cancelled at the last minute amid expected mass protests in the university town. That event had been the raison d’etre of President Rajapska’s visit to Britain this week.
Outside, as snow continued to fall amid sub-zero temperatures, the noisy demonstrations continued. Chants of “Britain! Arrest him!” and “Rajapakse – War Criminal!” gave way amid news President Rajapakse was at the reception to “Rajapakse – where are you hiding?!” and “Rajapakse, come out you coward!”
Police officers spaced themselves along Park Lane opposite the demonstrators, but the atmosphere was relaxed and rush hour traffic rolled as usual down the central thoroughfare – only being stopped to allow President Rajapakse’s motorcade returning from the High Commission.
Cameras caught President Rajapakse’s solemn features as unmarked BMW police cars carrying him and members of his entourage swept into The Dorchester.
Earlier Thursday afternoon, a group of Sinhala demonstrators carrying Lion flags – and a poster of President Rajapakse – demonstrated in his support opposite Tamil activists who began their own protest before the main demonstration at 4pm.
Some of the Sinhalese, who produced press passes, began filming the Tamils before police moved them on, sources said. British reporters quoted police as saying they had received reports Sri Lankan officials were organizing the filming.
Photos are stills from Channel 4 News footage broadcast Thursday