Lankan Prez’s Oxford Union talk cancelled amid protests

UK-based Tamil groups criticise Lankan President Rajapakse`s Britain visit.

London: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse`s scheduled address to the Oxford Union was abruptly cancelled on Wednesday due to security fears and "expected protests" by UK-based Tamil groups, the organisers said yesterday.

A statement by the Oxford Union said that "due to the sheer scale of the expected protests, we do not feel that the talk can safely go ahead".

The President`s visit has been criticised by UK-based Tamil groups, the BBC reported.

Rajapakse had travelled to London on Tuesday to make his second address to the prestigious Oxford Union, but his arrival was also marred by protests staged by hundreds of ethnic Tamils.

"Due to security concerns surrounding Mr Rajapakse`s visit which have recently been brought to our attention by the police, the Union has regretfully found that the talk is no longer practicable and has had to cancel his address," the Union said in a statement posted on its website.

"This decision was not taken lightly and the Union deeply regrets the cancellation," the organisers added. The President`s office had said that the demonstrators had failed to block his entry to Britain on Tuesday and dismissed the protests as insignificant.

Tamil Tiger supporters had been waving Tiger flags and denouncing Rajapakse as he landed at the Heathrow airport. British Tamil Forum spokesman Sam Krishna told the BBC Tamil service that he was "happy" that President Rajapakse`s talk at the Union had been cancelled.

Rajapakse says that he wants to work for national unity. A large group of Tamil Tiger protesters gathered at London`s Heathrow Airport on Tuesday to protest against the President`s visit.

Police in Oxford warned earlier Wednesday that thousands of protesters would converge if the talk went ahead, presenting a major security challenge.

Rajapakse`s secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, said that decision to cancel the talk had been made unilaterally by Union, "reportedly as a result of pressure applied" by pro-Tamil Tiger activists, the BBC reported.

A statement released by President Rajapakse said that he was "very sorry" the talk had to be cancelled "but I will continue to seek venues in the UK and elsewhere where I can talk about my future vision for Sri Lanka".


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