Divided UK Diaspora ‘confront’ President

*President, wife join Queen, senior royals to celebrate Commonwealth Day

From Shamindra Ferdinando in London

Placards carrying pro-LTTE activists protested near Westminster Abbey on Monday afternoon (March 9) demanding that a UNHRC war crimes report on Sri Lanka be released forthwith.

There were about 300 protesters though the organisers expected a far larger number. Some of the protesters shouted anti-Sri Lanka slogans as President Maithripala Sirisena’s motorcade passed them on its way to Westminster Abbey, where the Sri Lankan leader joined the Queen and senior royals in celebrating the Commonwealth Day.

The Queen led a service celebrating the Commonwealth in London.

Protesters carried LTTE flags. Some displayed photos of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, war winning army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka as well as President Maithripala Sirisena demanding that they be punished for what they called atrocities against Tamils.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were joined by the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for the Commonwealth Observance.

The British media reported that William and Kate attended the event, held at Westminster Abbey, which celebrates the multinational organisation on Commonwealth Day for the first time.

The royals were joined by politicians including President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, High Commissioners, other Commonwealth dignitaries, faith leaders and more than 1,000 children.

The royal party was introduced to a line-up including President Maithripala Sirisena and first lady, plus Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma and senior Abbey clergy.

Prince Charles apparently a joke with the Sri Lankan President as he greeted the latter.

They then joined a procession before the Queen’s Commonwealth Day message was played via giant screens.

In the message, the Queen hailed the Commonwealth’s continued role, saying what the member states share was more important now than at any point in its history.

The Queen said the 53 nations, whose combined population totaled 2.2 billion people were "guardians of a precious flame" with an obligation to keep it burning brightly for decades to come.

She warned that "when common goals fall apart, so does the exchange of ideas. And if people no longer trust or understand each other, the talking will soon stop too".

She added that Commonwealth member states had drawn on their shared history to act on the "huge advantages of mutual co-operation and understanding" to the benefit of their citizens.

The annual event, which has the theme of "a young Commonwealth", also featured dancing, hymns and readings.

A Sri Lankan High Commission official told The Island that in addition to the protest organized near Westminster Abbey by the British Tamil Forum (BTF), the Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC) and Tamil Youth Organization (TYO) organized a separate protest outside Marlborough House where the Commonwealth Day reception was held under the patronage of the Queen.

Asked whether Monday’s protests had in any way interfered with President Maithripala Sirisena’s programme, the official said that three organisations couldn’t even muster 500 protesters at both locations. The influential Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in spite of heavy lobbying by interested parties shunned Monday’s protests.

Responding to another query, the official said that British authorities had enhanced security for the visiting President.

He said that Tamil Diaspora, particularly those in the UK were sharply divided over their response to President Maithripala Sirisena national reconciliation programme.

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