Protests in London for Sri Lanka peace and Tibet freedom

By staff writers
February 2, 2009

Protests took place in Britain's capital over the weekend, calling for an end to the government-backed slaughter in Sri Lanka and for the freedom of Tibet from Chinese domination.

Some 70,000 demonstrators marched in central London, calling for an end to the the military offensive against the Tamil stronghold in the north of Sri Lanka, which has claimed many lives.

Protesters banged drums and waved flags and banners as they marched through the city along the embankment of the River Thames from the Tate Britain to Temple Place.

The protest was one of dozens staged around the world to press for a ceasefire Sri Lanka. Organisers said 100,000 took part. Police estimated 50,000.

In either case, it was one of the largest London demonstrations in the past two years, but it was largely ignored by the UK media.

Fighting has intensified between government troops and the ethnic separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). An estimated 230,000 civilians are trapped by the fighting and being forced into an ever-shrinking corner in the north-east of the country without adequate access to food and shelter.

The UN says that hundreds of civilians have been killed in the past weeks, reports that are denied by the Government of Sri Lanka. The lack of access by media and independent monitors prevents verifications of these claims.

UK-based international development agency Christian Aid says it is deeply concerned about the fate of these civilians and urges all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the need to ensure the safety of civilians, to allow their free movement and to enhance access for humanitarian assistance.

Anandhi Suryaprakasan, of the Tamils Forum, which represents about 90 different UK-based Tamil groups, said the march was a success for the Tamil community. Britain's Tamil population is about 250,000, she added.

Meanwhile, five demonstraors were arrested after trying to approach Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a Free Tibet group demonstration.

Several people vaulted barriers as he arrived outside the Chinese Embassy in London amid a noisy protest.

Supporters had greeted Mr Wen with dragon dancers and firecrackers as he visited as part of his UK tour, says the BBC. They were faced with a group of around 100 were chanting pro-Tibetan slogans.

From behind barriers, the protesters brandished placards reading "Stop Killing in Tibet" and posters featuring Mr Wen underneath a "Wanted" sign.

BBC correspondent Barnie Choudhury says that Mr Wen took no apparent notice of the protest as he made his way into the building.

"A dozen or so protesters vaulted over the barriers and made their way across the road," he explained. "Police decided they had to go in and began trying to hold the protesters back as they tried to breach the barriers."

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