Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tamil protesters pack it in; will Prabhakaran follow?

OTTAWA: A Canadian Tamil spokesman was on the verge of tears, expressing disappointment at the lack of response from elected officials to the weeks-long protest on Parliament Hill.

“We are at a loss as to what to do,” Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman David Popalapillai said yesterday. “(But) the struggle has to go on. The grieving will not stop.”

Tamil Canadians ended their protest Tuesday with a massive gathering of community members from Toronto, Montreal and beyond, demanding intervention by the federal government into the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Only NDP Leader Jack Layton issued brief comments of support directly to a crowd estimated by RCMP as being 33,000-strong.

The decades-long civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Tamil Tigers has escalated in recent weeks, claiming thousands of lives and trapping civilians in the battle zone.

Protesters called on the Canadian government to push for a UN-brokered ceasefire and to impose political and economic sanctions on the Sri Lankan government. Humanitarian agencies were gearing up to provide assistance to the estimated 40,000 civilians who have fled the fighting in recent days.

Shortly after midnight yesterday, the last of the protesters left downtown Ottawa, bringing to an end the long yet peaceful demonstration. City crews moved in, removing debris and barricades where the protesters had camped out.

Police reported no arrests or incidents of concern arising from the protest on Tuesday, or from the smaller protests leading up to it.

“We are resuming operations as normal,” Ottawa Const. Alain Boucher said.

RCMP and city police have been putting in overtime and calling in reinforcements to staff the protests that started two weeks earlier.

The cost to the city of policing the event will be tabled at the Ottawa police services board meeting April 27. City council will be calling on the federal government to help foot what is expected to be a hefty bill.

Meanwhile, the protesters continue to believe Canada will play a role in stopping the violence in Sri Lanka, Popalapillai said. The Canadian Tamil Congress plans town-hall meetings to inform citizens on how they can help.

“We won’t lose the hope, we as Tamil Canadians will march forward,” Popalapillai said. – (The Ottawa Sun)

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