Thousands of Tamils defy Paris protest bar
[TamilNet, Monday, 09 April 2007, 22:37 GMT]
Over 2,000 Tamil expatriates gathered in front of the Eiffel Tower Monday, despite the authorities’ cancellation of a planned protest rally to condemn the arrests by French police of several Tamil activists for raising funds for the LTTE. The protestors gathered in nearby public places, blocking traffic. Although the protest’s cancellation had been publicised on Tamil radio and television by the rally’s organisers who told expatriates that permission would be sought anew, several thousand people converged on the city centre, defying orders to disperse, to condemn the arrests on April 1, a week after the LTTE airstrike on Katunayake.
French counterterrorism police simultaneously raided four Tamil community organisation premises on Sunday April 1 and arrested 19 individuals on accusations of extorting funds which were sent to the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.
Councilor Anthony Russel, urging the protestors to leave the site Trocadèro square near Eiffel Tower
Commandos of Gendarmerie, a military body charged with police duties, were seen at the site with the police.
The Paris office of the Tamil Co-ordinating Committee (TCC)was raided in the early hours and arrests made. There were also arrests of individuals from other Tamil businesses and organizations.
Amid shock and anger amongst the Tamil community in France, the Tamil Youth Organization (TYO) there had called for expatriates to rally in protest at a Paris city-centre location on Monday at 2:00 p.m.
However, the French authorities had refused to allow the protest to go ahead as scheduled.
The authorities’ cancellation was, reportedly at their request, widely publicized in Tamil electronic media, including the Paris based Tamil Television Network (TTN).
Nonetheless, several thousand Tamil expatriates arrived in Paris Monday to protest.
The organisers – the TYO, the India Sri Lanka Business Chamber in Paris and Anthony Russell, a Paris councillor - held a press conference Monday morning at the Novatel Hotel in Paris-12 to announce the cancellation of the planned protest.
The India Sri Lanka Business Chamber in Paris has more than 250 businesses as members.
The protest organizers urged several thousand people who had taken to the streets to peacefully return and cooperate with their decision to respect the authorities’ orders.
Over five thousand people were turned back by the organisers and French Police, according to Tamil electronic media covering developments in Paris.
But some two thousand protestors had flocked to the Trocadèro square in front of Eiffel Tower around 3:15 p.m., around 50 meters from the site where the cancelled rally was to take place at 2:00 p.m.
The protestors also took to nearby public places. In some places large numbers of people sat on roads blocking traffic.
But the crowd refused to heed orders by the police to disperse.
Police were forced to call on Councillor Russell to convince the angry crowd to peacefully leave the site and attend a rally that would be announced at a later date.
Tamil shops in La Chapelle were shut down during the protest time Monday
Following an address by Mr. Russell, the protestors left the square peacefully at 5:00 p.m.
Mr. Russell told French media that he had 400 Tamil families in his area and none of them had complained about forcible fund-raising by the TCC.
A spokesperson from the Pondicherry Tamil community, Jean-Marie Julia (Chevalier) said that the Tamil community has been living in France for more than 23 years and respected the laws of the country.
The India Sri Lanka Business Chamber chamber released an appeal from over 120 member business establishments (almost all owned by Tamil expatriates) in the La Chapelle area supporting the TCC and rejecting allegations of forcible fund-raising.
Sivaguru Balachandran, Editor, Paris Eelanadu
"The authorities here have been well aware that the TCC has been collecting funds for more than 22 years," said Sivaguru Balachandran, editor of a local Tamil weekly, the Paris Eelanadu.
"The EU ban on the Tigers has been criticized by as having a counter-productive effect on the peace process in the island of Sri Lanka. The decision was even criticized by even the former head of Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, who said it was a decision by top officials, who neglected the ground realities and ignored the suggestions by the monitoring mission," he said.
"Again, the timing and aggression by the French counter-terrorism police, five days after the LTTE air-strike on Sri Lanka Air Force base in Colombo, strongly suggests that [these arrests] have been carried out on a similar logic," Mr. Balachandran told TamilNet.
At the press conference Monday morning, Ms. Suba, representing the Tamil Women Organisation and Mr. S. V. Kirubaharan, representing the Tamil Centre for Human Rights in France, spoke on the violation of human rights by the government of Sri Lanka.