Thousands of Tamils protest at UN Geneva headquarters

February 5th, 2009 - 3:21 am ICT by IANS  

Geneva, Feb 5 (DPA) Thousands of ethnic Tamils from all over Switzerland and beyond gathered outside the UN headquarters in Geneva Wednesday to protest the Sri Lankan government’s action in northern region and to demand help from the UN.Organisers claimed some 15,000 were taking part in the angry demonstration, which prompted a major police presence, though organisers used volunteers to maintain control over the emotional crowd and the event ended without major incident.

The demonstrators carried signs with messages protesting the military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels, including ones that said “stop the war” and “stop killing Tamils immediately”. Other placards showed pictures of dead and injured.

The action came after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa predicted the army would defeat separatist Tamil Tiger rebels within days, ending a civil war that has ravaged the country for nearly three decades.

Rajapaksa was speaking in a nationwide address marking the 61st anniversary of the island’s independence from Britain.

His use of the term “terrorist” about the Tigers riled many protesters in Geneva.

“We are not terrorists, we are just fighting for our freedom,” said Jeyabalan, a middle aged man who attended with his 10 year old daughter.

He said he left Jaffna in the northern tip of Sri Lanka 17 years ago, after friends and family were killed in fighting, and now lives in Basil, in northwest Switzerland.

“But I dream to go back home. When there is peace I will go back with my family,” he said.

Some protesters burned an effigy of Rajapaksa at the protest, while others stomped on photos of him.

Not all the protesters had a partisan message and many said they came because of the humanitarian plight in their homeland.

“People are being killed just because they are Tamil,” said Nadhini, a young medical student who came from Zurich, a three-hour train ride from Geneva, to take part in the protest.

She said she wanted to finish her education and go work as a doctor in northern Sri Lanka.

The protest spilled out of the Place des Nations, the main square in front of the UN building, and for about half an hour hundreds of protesters staged a sit-down in front of a main gate, blocking traffic on the road in front of the headquarters.

“Help us”, the demonstrators cried at the UN building, asking for medical and food aid to the war affected areas, largely populated by Tamils.

Several protesters had to be evacuated by ambulance after they suffered from exhaustion.

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