By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
In an unexpected,sudden development the Commonwealth Economic Forum the event in which Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was scheduled to deliver the keynote address has been called off.
The Commonwealth Business Council that had organized the event made a special announcement announcing the decision. In a tersely worded statement the Commonwealth Business Council stated-
“After careful consideration the morning sessions of the Forum on Wednesday 6th of June have been cancelled and will not take place. The event will therefore commence with lunch at 1300hrs followed by the originally planned afternoon sessions beginning at 1400hrs.”
Although the Business Council had not given any reasons for the abrupt cancellation speculation was rife that the decision was taken on account of the huge controversy generated by President Rajapaksa’s anticipated address.
Earlier the Commonwealth Business council had organized a two – day symposium to commemorate Queen Elizabeth the second’s Diamond Jubilee of accession to the Throne.
The symposium titled “Diamond Jubilee:Commonwealth Economic Forum” was to take place at Mansion House in London June 6th and 7th.
Tickets for the two day event had been sold out. They were each priced at 795 pound sterling plus Value added tax.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was to deliver the keynote address during the morning sessions of the Economic Forum at 10.30 am on June 6th the first day.
Thereafter a Commonwealth luncheon hosted by the Comonwealth Secretariat was to take place at Marlborough House in Pall Mall London. Queen Elizabeth was to grace the occasion.
President Rajapaksa had been invited for the luncheon by Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma who had earlier been India’s High Commissioner to Britain.
President Rajapaksa arrived by special flight with his entourage at the Heathrow Airport in London in the early hours of June 4th. He is staying at the London Hilton Hotel on Park Lane.
The Sri Lankan head of state was expected to deliver his special address in the morning to the Economic Forum at Mansion House and then return to his Park Lane Hilton Hote. After freshening up he was to leave for Marlborough House to attend the Commonwealth Luncheon scheduled to commence at One pm.
Several Human rights activists and members of the Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates in London had mounted a protest campaign to exert pressure on the Commonwealth Business Council to disallow the Sri Lankan President from addressing the Business Forum.
Demands have also been made that President Rajapaksa should be debarred from participating at the Commonwealth luncheon also.
Those protesting Rajapaksa’s London itinerary allege that he is a “war Criminal”. Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates accuse the Sri Lankan President of genocide against Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Hundreds of Tamils carrying flags with the tiger emblem of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)assembled at Heathrow Airport on June 3rd expecting the President to arrive on a Sri Lankan Airlines flight at 8.05 pm.
Rajapaksa however arrived hours later in the early hours of June 4th by a special flight and was whisked away through a side entrance.
Tamil Diaspora elements carrying tiger flags also gathered in the vicinity of the Hilton Hotel where President Rajapaksa was staying and demonstrated against him.
Sri Lankan Sinhalese also mounted a counter demonstration in support of President Rajapaksa near the Hilton Hotel opposite the Tamil demonstration.
Sri Lankan Muslim expatriates in London also organized a demonstration in support of President Rajapaksa in the same location.
While Tamil demonstrators shouted “Rajapaksa War Criminal” the Sinhala demonstrators hailed him as “Our King”.
At one point there was a scuffle between both sides and a Tamil protester named “Sakthi” was allegedly injured.
Heavy contingents of British Police were deployed in the area to maintain peace.
At one stage when President Rajapaksa left the Hotel premises in a motorcade to visit the Sri lankan High Commission in London, several Tamil demonstrators threw tomatoes and eggs at the vehicles.
Tamil Diaspora organizations were also gearing up to launch a mammoth demonstration in the vicinity of Mansion House on June 6th where President Rajapaksa was scheduled to address the Business forum in the morning.
Racist rabble rousing politicians from Tamil Nadu like Vaiko, Seeman, Thirumavalavan had issued statements urging Tamils abroad to launch a struggle and chase away Rajapaksa from London. These rhetorical statements were heavily insulting and amounted to incitements to violence.
These statements were widely circulated in Britain and Europe by the tiger flag bearing Diaspora elements to mobilize huge crowds for the demonstration near Mansion House.
Special buses were arranged to transport demonstrators to the venue while a number of activists from other European countries also began arriving.
Appeals were made to Tamils to gather in large numbers and prevent the Sri Lankan President from speaking as in the case of the aborted Oxford Union speech in 2010.
In November 2010 , President Rajapaksa had arrived in Britain to address the prestigious Oxford Union at Oxford University. Mounting protest demonstrations against the event by LTTE and pro-LTTE diaspora elements compelled the organizers to cancel it at short notice fearing a breach of security and possible violence.
Even though the Oxford Police was prepared to provide adequate security the Oxford Union decided to cancel the address by Rajapaksa.
In a statement at the time, President Rajapakse said “I am very sorry this has 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.” The Mansion House speech was to have been his first such address in the UK since the Oxford event was cancelled.
Tamil diaspora media appealed to fellow Tamils to gather in large numbers saying the British Police had stated that the event may be called off for security reasons if a crowd exceeding 20,000 gathered at the venue.
Meanwhile efforts were also on by Sinhala expatriates to organize a counter demonstration near Mansion House in support of President Rajapaksa.
With the course of events taking a dangerous turn the Commonwealth Business Council office-bearers held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in consultation with British law enforcement authorities. It is learnt that security assessments and intelligence reports were also examined.
According to Scotland Yard sources the Police were ready to guarantee President Rajapaksa’s security but the Commonwealth Business Council decided it was not in the CBC/s interest to stage the event due to excessive policing requirements, risk of unruly incidents and potential violence, and also the likely disruption to business in the City of London.
Thereafter the Business Council decided to cancel the entire morning session of the envisaged Economic Forum.
According to a British official who requested anonymity the decision was to avoid potential “ugly incidents” in the Mansion House vicinity by eliminating the key provocative factor involved .
This was identified as the scheduled address by President Rajapaksa!
However in a bid to spare President Rajapaksa embarrassment by cancelling his speech alone the organizers resolved to call off the entire morning session of the forum.
Thus President Rajapaksa’s scheduled address has not been singled out and cancelled. Instead his speech along with other speeches will not take place as the entire morning session has been cancelled.
President Rajapaksa will attend the Commonwealth luncheon at Marlborough House on June 6th.
Meanwhile Tamil Diaspora media organs have begun gloating over the cancellation and are claiming that this was another victory for the “Pulathup Puligal” (Diaspora tigers) as in the case of what happened in Oxford in 2010.
Moves are also on to continue with the protest demonstration in the vicinity of Marlborough House where the Luncheon hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat in honour of the Queen is to be held
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at [email protected]