Tamils call for truce at London demo
Thousands of Tamils blocked some of London's busiest roads yesterday, demonstrating outside the Houses of Parliament for an immediate ceasefire in the war between Tamil rebels and Sri Lanka's government.
The protestors, who have held a two-week vigil, staged a sit-down protest, chanted and waved flags and banners in the roads opposite Parliament after their numbers swelled from hundreds to thousands overnight Sunday.
Police said around 3,500 people were taking part. They want Britain, the former colonial power, to intervene in Sri Lanka to stop the conflict.
One demonstrator, who has gone on hunger strike, entered his third week of fasting Monday and has pledged to die for his cause if necessary.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's official spokesman said the premier was "deeply concerned" at the conflict in Sri Lanka.
"The government is making clear that there must be an immediate ceasefire," he said, adding: "We want to see a durable political solution."
The spokesman also called for civilians to be allowed to leave the sliver of coastal land still controlled by the Tamil Tigers rebels.
The noisy though peaceful crowd held red Tamil flags and banners saying "Stop the Genocide, Stop the War".
Paramesweran Subramaniyam, 28, who has gone two weeks without food and drink to highlight the Tamil cause, lay in a tent on a piece of land opposite Parliament as protestors thronged around him.
One of his supporters, 18-year-old student Janani Paramsothy, said he was prepared to sacrifice his life and that other hunger strikers were prepared to take his place if he died.
"He believes he is going to die quite soon," she told AFP. "It's already been decided that should anything happen to him there are 50 people who will go on hunger strike to death after him."
She said the Tamil people "have reached a tipping point... the political and democratic means are not working. We've been here for two weeks and it's not working."
Thousands more came to the protest Monday after hearing overnight that Tamil civilians had been killed by government forces in the small area held by rebels as fighting intensified, she said. Those reports are unconfirmed.
The United Nations has said that up to 100,000 civilians were trapped in the area and living in "dire humanitarian conditions."
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse said Monday that tens of thousands of civilians escaped from the area and that the rebels' "complete defeat" was imminent.