Indian Tamils protest ahead of Sri Lanka leader’s visit

Protesters burn effigy of Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa, who is responsible, they say, for genocide of innocent Tamils in the civil war.

BBC News

8 June 2010

Police in southern India have detained hundreds of Tamil demonstrators ahead of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s three-day visit.

Protesters alleging mistreatment of Sri Lankan Tamils were stopped from marching to the country’s mission in the city of Madras (Chennai).

Mr Rajapaksa is making his first visit to India, a year after Sri Lankan troops defeated Tamil Tiger rebels. India gave Colombo military support and did not question its tactics. But reports say the Indian government wants President Rajapaksa to show that he plans to give Tamils some measure of self-governance.

Tens of millions of ethnic Tamils live in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. They are concerned with how the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan state treats its own Tamil minority, the issue that led to decades of ethnic war.

‘Treacherous betrayal’

“Mr Rajapaksa is the man responsible for the death of many innocent Tamils. Giving him a red carpet welcome is like rubbing salt on Tamil hearts,” the leader of the regional MDMK party, Vaiko, said.

President Rajapaksa is making his first visit to India.

“We condemn the reception being given by the government which is committing betrayal after betrayal, treacherous betrayal, against the Tamils.” Mr Vaiko was among hundreds of protesters taken into custody across Tamil Nadu state on Tuesday.

A number of protests were held in the southern cities of Madras and Coimbatore. In several places effigies of Mr Rajapaksa were burnt and in Madras, police prevented demonstrators from marching to the Sri Lankan deputy high commissioner’s office. In Coimbatore, protesters attempted to stop trains.

Prior to the visit, Mr Rajapaksa held his first meeting with the main Tamil party in Sri Lanka since polls earlier this year.

The BBC’s Charles Haviland in Colombo says the talks are reported to have gone well, even if they were thin on substance. The president’s office quoted Mr Rajapaksa as telling the Tamil politicians to trust him and saying that, by working together, they could find solutions to problems.

Sri Lanka’s Tamils account for 12.5% of the island’s 20 million population. Up to 100,000 people were killed in the island’s 25-year civil war, the United Nations estimates.

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