A huge mass of Tamil people gathered on the north side of the Thames at Pimlico on Saturday lunchtime calling for an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka, and a halt to the genocidal attacks of the Sri Lankan army on Tamil civilians.
Over 125,000 demonstrators slowly made their way alongside the river, through Parliament Square, past Embankment tube and up to the Temple. This was the biggest-ever Tamil march in Britain.
The lead banner read ‘Immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka; Sri Lanka! Stop bombing Tamil civilians; Sri Lanka! Allow humanitarian aid’.
There were groups of young people shouting the slogans ‘Don’t kill Tamil People’, ‘Sri Lanka stop the war’, ‘We want Tamil Eelam’. Families brought their young children in push chairs. Despite the freezing day there was a warm atmosphere and lots of chanting.
Hundreds of stewards wearing yellow and red tabards kept the crowd well organised and gave out free bottles of water. The tabards carried slogans saying ‘Stop the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka’, ‘Free Tamil Eelam’.
At the front of the march was a troop of drummers dressed in yellow tops and red trousers, echoing the colour of the big Tamil flags being waved, top half red, bottom half yellow.
Behind them was a crowd of women and young girls wearing scarves and headbands of white with splashes of scarlet red to represent blood stained bandages.
When the demonstration reached Downing street, this group fell on the ground and began wailing and crying, as several young men dressed as Sri Lankan army soldiers acted out beating them with large batons.
This illustrated how innocent civilians are being killed and wounded.
Behind them were women carrying pots on their heads and people pushing bicycles with bags, to show how Tamil people are being turned into refugees constantly on the move to get away from the bombing.
Other banners read: ‘Stop bombarding refugee camps and safety zones’, ‘Don’t terrorise Tamil homeland’, ‘Drop food and medicine, not bombs’, ‘Tamil-speaking people demand security, identity, land and democracy,’ ‘Gaza and Sri Lanka are on the same planet. UN can’t you see us. Stop the bloodshed. Stop aid to Sri Lanka.’
Placards read ‘Is the world enjoying the genocide’ next to a picture of a sleeping globe. ‘Give us our land back. Tamil nation bleeding to death’, ‘Years ago Britain made a mistake in which Tamils have been suffering’, ‘Two-state solution for island of Sri Lanka. We can change’.
News Line spoke to people on the march. Dr Pushbarajah, a GP from Kent said: ‘There is a war going on between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE ( Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).
‘The Sri Lankan government is killing innocent people and children. Our people are dying every day.
‘Yesterday, they burned the store where people get food. Our brothers and sisters are dying there.’
Her colleague Dr Thamby said: ‘There is a diabolical situation in Sri Lanka. It is a human tragedy. The Sri Lankan government is virtually committing genocide.
‘It is a pity that the international community is still remaining silent.
‘Britain has a moral obligation to step in and take democracy to Sri Lanka. Our aim is to bring to the notice of the British government the need for immediate action to save lives in Sri Lanka.’
School student Chemthujar Murugiah (15) said: ‘It is very sad. It’s very unfair.
‘They’re saying of the Tamil people that they are terrorists, but all they want is their own country and to live their own lives.
‘Innocent people are getting bombed and children and they’re destroying hospitals and schools.
Everything that Tamils had is being taken away.
‘Tamils want their own homeland. The people hide in hospitals and schools and churches and then they bomb them. We want to stop the war.’
Mrs Bala said: ‘I want peace for my country. Too many Tamil people are dying. We want to stop the war.’
Mrs Sasikala, a young mother, added: ‘They are killing innocent Tamils, children and babies and elderly people with bombs.
‘They don’t have food or houses, even the basic things. They are asked to come into a safe place, then they kill them in the “safe place”.
‘They have nowhere to run to. There are no medicines. People are dying. They are living under the trees.
‘We want to tell the worldwide people, that a war is going on, which nobody knows, with killing by the Sri Lankan government.
‘We want peace. Help stop the war. Give medicines. India is not helping us.’
A young Tamil girl Janani Paramsothy condemned the Sri Lankan government for the killing of journalists for speaking the truth.
‘Also aid that has been donated from the people of Tamil Nadu has been blocked from reaching Vanni by the Sri lankan government.
Mrs Rajayogeswaran said: ‘We want the war to stop immediately. We want freedom. We want solid support to stop the genocide by the Sri Lankan government.’
Mr Muthukumar said: ‘Children are dying in the Sri Lankan bombing. My family are there. There is no food or medicine.
‘We want freedom and a homeland for Tamil people.’
He gave out a leaflet about a journalist called Muthukumar who killed himself to publicise the situation facing the Tamil people.
Two young women listed their wishes – ‘One: to stop killing innocent Tamil people; two: a ceasefire immediately; three: medical aid and food immediately; four: for the last 26 years there has been fighting for peace for our own homeland; we want our own separate land – Tamil Eelam.’
Sanjeer, 17, was with his friends. He said ‘The government is killing all the Tamil people, innocent civilians. They pretend they are fighting the Tigers. They say they are letting aid through, but they are not.
‘Sri Lanka is supposed to be shared between two ethnic groups but the Sinhalese government keep the power. This all started when the Sinhalese put limits on Tamils going to university and getting jobs. It is segregation.
‘I’m marching because my family and innocent people are dying. They won’t even agree to a ceasefire. I want an immediate stop to the war and the international community to intervene.
‘They don’t even report the Sri Lankan problem. The only solution is Tamil Eelam, and independent area for the Tamil people.’
Ken Pillai said: ‘People are displaced and running from one place to another. They have to dig a bunker and maybe are there for hours or days. They don’t know when the bombs will come.
‘For injuries there are no medicines. There is no food and no clean water. They say an area is safe and them bomb it. They wipe us out to make us as a minority even less.’
Sivakami Rajamanoharan, a student, said: ‘When the British came, they merged three nations into one. Since 1948 there has been Sinhalese majority rule with one thing after another.
‘The Sinhalese language and the Buddhist religion became official. They took away citizenship from the Tamil tea plantation workers and started discrimination in university applications and public sector jobs and then killing Tamils in the protests in 1983.
‘The Tamils protested peacefully and then realised this was not enough and voted for their own state in 1976, and for a two state solution. Since 1983, the LTTE has been the sole representative of the Tamil Eelam cause.
‘Recently the Sri Lankan army has advanced into the North East, and taken Kilinochi and Elephant Pass and pushed the Tigers into the jungle. Civilians are trapped in between.
‘The International Red Cross estimates that 400,000 civilians are trapped in the “safe zone”.
‘The UN said that the government has been bombing hospitals and ambulances. The government is telling people to leave, but the people are afraid to leave to go to government-controlled areas.
‘The Indian army has sent 3,000 troops to help the Sri Lankan army.
‘We immediately need a ceasefire. There is no other country which bombs its own civilians.
‘The government is not letting in the aid agencies or any international media. We are here for Tamil Eelam. It’s the only solution.
‘Before the merger forged by Britain, there was Tamil land. We just want our human rights, our nature, our culture, religion, wants and needs.’
USDAW member K Kumar, a Tesco manager, added: ‘There is a terrible war going on in Sri Lanka.
‘The world is just watching and doing nothing.
‘At least in Gaza, TV cameras are everywhere so you can see what is happening.
‘In Sri Lanka, it is not allowed for reporters, NGOs and humanitarian workers, even UN officers are not allowed into the war zones.
‘It’s a complete blackout of news on Sri Lanka. There is only government propaganda.
‘The Indian government is behind this war.
‘The Indian government has a particular interest and is taking a strong stand against the Tamils.
‘The British government says it is neutral but it is not. They are giving advice and support at a diplomatic level to Colombo.
‘That’s why we are having this massive protest, to show the world and see what it can do.
‘Sri Lankan forces are killing innocent civilians – children and women.
‘But they are saying that the LTTE is using civilians as human shields – how can 250,000 people be human shields?
‘We want to tell the world, please, please do not listen to the Sri Lankan and India media.
‘The latest news is that 3,000 Indian soldiers landed in Sri Lanka to continue this war.
‘The human tragedy continues. We have to stop it.
‘The British government should lift the ban on the LTTE, start talking and stop the war immediately.’
Kiruvha Poopalasingham told News Line: ‘We are here because our parents and other people are being killed back home.
‘We want to stop the war.
‘We are living in Britain and we want support from the British people.
‘The British government can stop the war.
‘Sri Lanka was a colony of Britain until 1948.’
‘The British people should support us.’
Mr Paheerathan added: ‘I support the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tamil Tigers.
‘They are fighting for the Tamils and the Tamil homeland.
‘Most people are here today to stop the killing of innocent Tamils.
‘We urge then Western countries and the EU to lift the ban on the Tamil Tigers.
‘We urge people in the European countries to give the Tamils a solution.
‘Stop the war. We want a ceasefire, a political solution for the Tamil people.
‘Sri Lanka was a British colony. We want the British government to lead the solution.
‘The British workers should press the Sri Lankan government to stop the war.’
The march was supported by Labour MP Keith Vaz, Tory MP Andrew Pelling and Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes.
There was a rally at Temple, which was addressed by Miss Mann, the Mayoress of Lewisham, the Tamil Members of Parliament Mr Sivarjelingam and Mr Dayananbarajah and a Tamil councillor from Harrow.
David Pararajasingham, the son of a Tamil MP who was assassinated, told the rally: ‘We’ve gathered here in large numbers today because the British government has shut its eyes to the genocide.
‘We’re here to show our solidarity to the people who are leading our struggle back home.
‘We are asking the British government to stop this war and bring an immediate ceasefire.
‘Also, we want the humanitarian aid to be sent directly to the internally displaced people.
‘We want the British government to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to stop the indiscriminate aerial bombardments.
‘Finally, to recognise the Tamils’ right to self-determination and to recognise that the Tamil people voted overwhelmingly to accept the LTTE as their sole representatives.’
Some of the younger marchers diverged and staged a sit-down protest on Westminster Bridge.
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