Vaiko addresses 40,000 at London Remembrance Day event

[TamilNet, Friday, 28 November 2008, 03:09 GMT]
Over 40,000 expatriate Tamils participated in the Remembrance Day ceremony in London on Thursday, a record turnout for the usually well-attended annual event. Vaiko, leader of the MDMK party in Tamil Nadu delivered the keynote address at the ExCel centre, London’s largest auditorium, whilst, earlier, the 2008 Heroes’ Day speech by LTTE leader Velupillai Pirapaharan was heard by attendees as it was broadcast live via satellite from Vanni to Diaspora centres around the world.

Vaiko in UK

Despite Thursday being a working day, the 25,000 seat ExCel centre in Southeast London remained packed to capacity from mid-day to early evening, with thousands of people paying their respects and leaving after some time so as to make way for those crowding outside, venue officials said.

Remebrance Day in UK
A section of the crowd

Remembrance Day in UK
Vaiko addressing the gathering
Remebrance Day in UK
Toby Boutle, Conservative candidate for Ilford South
Remebrance Day in UK
Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston
Remembrance Day in UK
Siobhan McDonagh MP
Remembrance Day in UK
Joan Ryan MP
The day began with a silent tribute to the Tamils who had died in their people’s liberation struggle. Thereafter, the flame of altruism lit by Mrs Yoharani Manohararasa, mother of late LTTE Lt Col Vaikunthan.

Then the lights dimmed for lighting of lamps by the attending people whilst the ‘Great Heroes' Resting Home’ song played in the background.

Throughout the day families waited patiently in line with groups of teenagers and retirees to place flower petals before portraits of Tamils killed in the liberation struggle against Sinhala domination.

It took an hour for those joining the queues to reach the petals, people said. Families of the fallen brought portraits of their loved ones to place on the dais, they added. As in recent years, large quantities of the Tamil national flower, the karthigaipoo (gloriosa lily) were among the petals piled up for attendees to pick and place, they said.

Private bus companies plied from many of London’s boroughs (districts) to the cavernous venue in the glass fronted Docklands area. Thousands of people also travelled to London from locations across the British isles, from as far away as Edinburgh in Scotland and Cardiff in Wales to participate in the event.

Whilst people waited to pay their respects of took their seats afterwards, dozens of Tamil expatriate arts groups staged dramas, traditional dance (bharathanatyam) and other cultural performances which were interspaced with speeches on the Tamils’ oppression in Sri Lanka and their struggle for freedom.

Among those who addressed the event were British parliamentarians Edward Davey (LibDem, Kingston and Surbiton), Siobhain McDonagh (Labour, Mitcham and Mordern), John McDonnell (Labour, Hayes and Harlington), Andrew Pelling (Independent, Croydon Central), Joan Ryan (Labour, Enfield North) and Vireindra Sharma (Labour, Ealing and Southall). The Conservative candidate for Ilford South, Toby Boutle, also spoke. Written statements were issued by Lee Scott (Conservative MP, Ilford North) and Jason M Hadden (Conservative PPC for Croydon North).

Mr. Sharma, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG-T) asked if the massive gathering of expatriate Tamils didn’t represent the sentiments of the Tamil people, what would? He said the APPG-T would continue to take up the Tamils’ cause.

Mr. Pelling pointed out that the Sri Lankan government labels anyone who talks about the persecution of Tamils as terrorists. Those gathered at the venue are only voicing their support for the right to self determination of their people, he said. They certainly were not terrorists, they occupy an important place in British society he said.

The keynote address was delivered in the evening by Mr. Vaiko, the general secretary of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetta Kazhakam (MDMK). The renowned orator repeatedly drew applause during his 40 minute speech, which was broadcast on expatriate satellite channels.

Revisiting aspects of a speech he had given Wednesday to a meeting at the British Parliament of the APPG-T, Mr. Vaiko said the Tamil struggle for independence was a direct consequence of Sinhala oppression.

He pointed out that long before armed struggle erupted in Sri Lanka, Tamil leaders had despaired of trying to get the Sinhala state to treat Tamils as equals.

The project of securing Tamil Eelam was first set out the Vaddokoddai Resolution (of 1976), he reminded the audience.

Implacable Sinhala racism had rendered Tamil Eelam the only viable route for Tamils’ security and dignity he said.

He pointed out that under British colonial rule, the Tamils had not faced violence and persecution on account of their race.

Mr. Vaiko urged the Indian central government to help establish an independent Tamil Eelam, saying this was not a threat to India but in fact a vital form of security.

Whilst the Tamils in Sri Lanka are allies of India, the Sinhalese are hostile to India, he said. A Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka would certainly be a threat to India, he added.

He dismissed Sri Lanka’s recent rhetoric about the 13th amendment as a ruse to fend off international pressure for the Sinhalese to share power with the Tamils.

Speeches by another prominent Tamil Nadu political leader, P. Nedumaran, was broadcast. So was a speech by Indian cinema director Seeman.

Vaiko in UK
Vaiko with Ms. Adele Balasingham
Remembrance Day in UK
A dance paying tribute at Rmembrance Day

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