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Posted on 5 February 2009 at 0:00 GMT

Sri Lanka: Stop the slaughter!

Mass demo condemns the Rajapakse government

Massive demonstration in London against the military attacks on Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka, photo D. Carr

Massive demonstration in London against the military attacks on Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka, photo D. Carr

IN EXTREMELY cold weather, 125,000 Sri Lankan Tamils living in England took to the streets of London on Saturday 31 January to protest against the atrocities of the Sri Lankan government in its war on the Tamils in the north of the country.

Senan, Socialist Party, London

The turnout went way beyond the expectations of the organisers and the Metropolitan police, who were overwhelmed by the size of the demo. Having been denied access to Trafalgar Square the crowd was crammed into the totally inadequate space by Temple tube station.

Across London, shops, restaurants and other businesses owned by Tamils were shut down for the day to allow everyone to attend the march. Many were participating in their first political activity. Families with children in prams, old and young, all were there.

Yet this historically significant protest has been almost completely ignored by the media.

The main organisers, the British Tamil Forum, put forward limited slogans, underestimating the mood of the crowd. They made an appeal to the media, the British government and the "international community" to come to the aid of the Tamils in the north. But this 'international community' consists of the western ruling classes and the mainstream capitalist media who serve them.

Western capitalist governments do not have any particular interest in defending the Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka or the poor in any country. If they want peace, it is in order that capitalism can get back to business as usual.

The Sri Lankan government maintains a good relationship with the western ruling elites as well as with the Indian government. In the case of India, Pakistan, Israel and China, they have been profiting from the war, supplying arms as well as military training.

Protesters' demands

Massive demonstration in London against ther military attacks on Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka, photo by D. Carr

Massive demonstration in London against ther military attacks on Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka, photo by D. Carr

The people who joined the protest in London are angry and sad and feel that they must do something to show solidarity and save the 250,000 people who are trapped and face death by starvation or by bombing (see Sri Lanka: Thousands trapped in war zone). And yet there was no clear idea of what is required.

Confusion was compounded by the speeches at the closing rally. There was an enthusiastic response to a certain amount of nationalist rhetoric, but the speakers failed to offer a way of taking the fight for self-determination forward by linking it to a struggle against the anti-Tamil and anti-working class government which is oppressing all working and poor people in Sri Lanka.

Labour MP Keith Vaz limply said we should "ask" the British government to "ask" the Sri Lanka government to stop the war against the Tamils. He even presented the Indian government as willing to assist. The same Indian ruling class that attempted to militarily pacify Tamil-run areas in the north of Sri Lanka during 1987-90!

As a Labour MP who voted for the Iraq war, for Labour's anti-terrorism laws and almost all the repressive and reactionary measures of the Labour government, he had no understanding of the mood of the protest or the plight of the Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka and his presence there was pure hypocrisy.

But members of the Socialist Party were on this demonstration with petitions and leaflets and got a tremendous reception. We echoed the demands put forward by the United Socialist Party, our sister organisation in Sri Lanka.

Our leaflet called for: an end to the slaughter, down with the racist Rajapkase government, immediate food and medical relief for the suffering and, crucially, a united struggle of Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim workers for a socialist alternative.

5,000 Socialist Party leaflets were snapped up and more had to be printed and brought to the demonstration along with additional copies of The Socialist. Some offered to distribute the leaflet for us.

We collected a huge number of signatures for our demands. The Socialist Party stall was inundated with people coming to hand in the leaflets with the 'join' box filled in. One man from Lewisham, for example, asked how to join the party. Having been a Labour Party member for many years he wanted to join a party that genuinely stands up for working-class people.

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