Tamil protest mars UK tourism push

[TamilNet, Monday, 19 June 2006, 03:05 GMT]
A major effort by Sri Lanka to promote tourism from Britain did not make much headway last week as British television and newspapers simultaneously gave considerable coverage to the spiraling violence in the island and highlighting fears of a slide back to war. Moreover, the grand finale of a ten-day festival promoting Sinhala culture held in Trafalgar Square Saturday drew a novel protest by Tamil youth organizations in London – traditional Tamil arts being performed for the public while volunteers distributed leaflets highlighting the bloodletting underway in the distant island.

Protest in UK tourism promotion event
No demonstration is complete without placards.


As part of efforts to increase tourism from Britain and in a bid to capitalize on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s presence in the UK, Sri Lanka’s government had organized a ten day festival in Trafalgar Square to promote the island’s many attractions.

The climax of the festival unabashedly celebrated Sinhala culture. Flame eaters and Kandyan dancers performed to Sinhalese musical instruments.

Protest in UK tourism promotion event
Traditional Tamil dance – in Trafalgar Square.
Protest in UK tourism promotion event
Traditional Tamil dance – in Trafalgar Square.
Protest in UK tourism promotion event
Drama highlighting soldiers’ violence against civilians
In a cluster of white tents and a white pavillion, staff from Sri Lanka airlines promoted the part-state owned airline while palm readers and hand and feet masseurs demonstrated their trade and onlookers were introduced to Ayurvedic traditional medicine.

A Sri Lankan elephant was even brought along to spice up the show.

But in sharp contrast to the idea of a peaceful and balmy Sri Lanka, there was a large police presence in Trafalgar Square to provide security for Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera who was the special guest.

Expatriate Tamil youth, under the umbrella of the Tamil Youth Organisation’s (TYO) UK, branch held a protest demonstration on the elevated periphery of the large well, containing the famous fountains, which takes up most of Trafalgar Square.

In a twist of irony, the Tamil demonstration was staged on a grassy platform opposite the embassy of Canada – which recently banned the Liberation Tigers as a terrorist group.

As passers-by stopped and watched, bharatha natyam dancers gave whirling performances, as did musicians playing traditional Tamil instruments. Dramas and ‘koothu’ performances highlighted the difficulties and atrocities endured by the Tamils in Sri Lanka’s Northeast due to the security forces.

As organisers repeatedly told confused tourists, “the protest is also to highlight Tamil culture which is being marginalized and suppressed by the Sinhala-dominated Sri Lankan state.”

In contrast to the elaborate Sri Lankan exhibition being staged a few dozen yards away, the Tamil demonstration was decidedly low-cost: a ghetto-blaster stood in for an orchestra for the dances and dramas – staged by members of the TYO.

Yet, the Tamil ‘demonstration’ drew the attention of many Londoners and tourists passing through the world famous square, enabling Tamil volunteers to hand out leaflets urging Britons and others not to visit Sri Lanka as their tourist funds “would fund the state’s genocidal violence against the Tamils.”

Protest in UK tourism promotion event

 

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