Monday, 18 May 2009

Tears spill in London for Tamil leader

Nimalan Seevaratnam’s eyes were swollen with tears as he stood outside the Houses of Parliament earlier today.

For much of the past six weeks, the 41-year-old van driver has travelled every day from his home in Harrow to Parliament Square where hundreds of British Tamils have been holding a non-stop vigil to protest against the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka.

Night and day Mr Seevaratnam and his friends had chanted one phrase louder than any other: "Prabhakaran, Our Leader! Tamil Eelam, Our Nation!"

But this morning the realisation had finally dawned on them that Vellupillai Prabhakaran, a man lionized by Tamils but reviled by much of the international community as a merciless terrorist, had finally gone the way of so many of his suicidal fighters.

Dressed in a Tamil Tiger hoodie, scarf and necklace Mr Seevaratnam raged: "Even if Prabhakaran is dead he will live on in our hearts for the next 2,000 years. Thirty years of non-violent action followed by thirty years of armed struggle have ended, but the fight for Tamil Eelam will continue."

Chillingly he added: "Just because the Tigers have been defeated doesn't mean the fighting will stop. A new generation will make the Sinhalese bleed around the world just like Tamils have bled."

For Britain’s Tamils, the vast majority of whom view the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as freedom fighters engaged in a legitimate armed struggle, the death of Prabhakaran is a crushing blow. They had never imagined the Tamil struggle without him and are terrified of what will come next.

"My biggest worry is what will happen to Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka," said Dushin Nandkumar, a second year medical student from Kings College London who is one of the small group of students that have spearheaded the ongoing protests and hunger strikes in Parliament Square. "Unless the international community acts quickly the Sri Lankan government will simply wipe away any evidence of the atrocities that have been committed there."

British Tamils have been protesting outside Parliament ever since 6 April when thousands of demonstrators blockaded Westminster Bridge, bringing central London to a standstill. From time to time the crowds have swelled into their thousands but generally a hardcore element of some two hundred demonstrators, including hunger strikers, have kept a 24 hour vigil calling on Britain to do more to stop the Sri Lankan military's assault against the Tamil Tigers.

The more media savvy demonstrators always insisted the protest was purely humanitarian. But overwhelming support for the Tamil Tigers was obvious from the moment the first LTTE flags began appearing on the statues around the square. Anti-LTTE Tamils that The Independent has spoken to over the weeks made it clear they were not welcome at the protests.

Yesterday afternoon the crowd made their allegiances even clearer by holding aloft pictures of Prabhakaran himself.

"He will always be a hero to Tamils," said one man who gave his name as Jayadevan. "In the West he was misunderstood but we knew he was the only man who could fight Sri Lankan racism."

What happens to the LTTE now will largely depend on the diaspora who have always provided the majority of the group’s funding. Traditionally the Tamil communities in Britain and Canada have tended to be the most vehement Tiger supporters and it is not unusual to see portraits of Prabhakaran inside Tamil temples in north London. The annual Heroes Day festival, celebrated on Prabhakaran’s 26 November birthday to commemorate Tiger cadres who have died in battle, still draws up to 100,000 British Tamils every year.

Parameswaram Subramaniam, the protestor who went on hunger strike for nearly a month after his family were allegedly killed in an artillery strike, said younger generations of Tamils are willing to carry on their parents’ fight.

"People will think this is the end of the war but it is not," he warned. "We are still here. We will take over the war if necessary."
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