Tamils demonstrate at CHOGM

[TamilNet, Monday, 27 October 1997, 23:59 GMT]
Over a thousand Tamil people demonstrated in Edinburgh on Saturday during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM), which was attended by the Sri Lankan President. Tamil cultural shows were given at a custom built marquee and a vigil was held outside the conference centre.

The events were organised by the Tamil Forum, an umbrella organisation for a number of Tamil expatriate community groups in the UK.

Over 600 Tamil people arrived in Edinburgh just before 1pm on Saturday, 25 October on the 'Tamil Eelam/Scotland Friendship' train from London. They had chartered the whole train and were accompanied by a number of Tamil cultural performers and some journalists.

The Tamils who had come on the chartered train were joined by Tamils living in Scotland and by other Tamils who had made separate journeys to Scotland. Scottish newspapers said that over a thousand people had taken part.

Led by traditional Tamil and Scottish pipers, the demonstrators moved through Princes street, which is in the centre of the city and then went onto a large marquee which had been set up in the Meadows park, a mile away.

According to a Forum spokeswoman, the marquee was originally meant to have been set up on top of the Waverly shopping centre, next to the station, but pressure from the Sri Lankan High Commission had forced the Waverly management to pull out.

The demonstrators carried placards and red balloons bearing the LTTE logo. Scottish papers described it as the biggest demonstration of the CHOGM event.

Large numbers of Edinburgh residents crowded the city centre to watch. Several hundred other Scots visited the marquee where a number of traditional Tamil performances were being given.

The Tamil artists also performed at Edinburgh's open air Ross theatre, where an estimated thousand Scots joined the Tamil people in applause.

The day had started early for the Forum as several dozen volunteers fanned out across the city distributing leaflets advertising the planned cultural performances.

A vigil was also mounted outside the CHOGM conference centre by about 120 Tamil people. The centre's security personnel seemed unsure how to react (the planned group of 30 had been expanded with police permission), and guns were drawn.

According to Forum officials, the situation was quickly defused when a senior Scottish police officer instructed the security detail to stand down and put their weapons away. Persistent rumours of scare-mongering by Sri Lankan officials circulated afterwards.

A seminar on the Commonwealth and human rights organised by Tamil human rights activists and the Forum drew interest from other NGOs, journalists and officials of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, according to Forum officials.

The Forum spokeswoman said that the Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK had unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the events by claiming that they were being organised by 'terrorists' and putting pressure on Scottish officials.

She also said that despite this, the day's events had been 'overwhelmingly successful'.

 

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