Tamils speak out against genocide

In an act of peaceful civil disobedience, more than 500 Tamils occupied George Street in Sydney's CBD for more than an hour. The May 1 action protested the genocide being carried out by the Sri Lankan government against the Tamil people in the north and east of the country.

Forty-three Tamil school children also marched over Sydney Habour Bridge to Kirribilli House that morning.

Both actions demanded the Australian government call for an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the Sri Lankan Army has unleashed a killing spree against the Tamils. They aim to destroy the Tamil armed resistance movement — the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) — and bring the entire island back under central government control.

The 25-year armed conflict is a result of oppressive policies against the Tamil minority on the island, and successive Sri Lankan governments' refusal to grant the Tamil people the right to self-determination.

Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians are trapped in a "no-fire zone" on a narrow stretch of land. The zone is under a brutal air, sea and ground assault by the Sri Lankan Army.

Ceasefire needed

The Sri Lankan government has refused to accept a ceasefire offered by the LTTE. Instead, the army has intensified its "scorched earth" policy. Blanket shelling of civilian areas is killing hundreds every day, says Tamilnet.com.

At the Sydney protest, police issued a directive for protesters to stop blocking George Street. This was met with chants of "Australia save the Tamils!" and "Sri Lanka stop genocide!".

Tamil activist Adrian Francis addressed the rally, urging Australian people to speak up against the human rights abuses against Tamils in Sri Lanka. "Right now, people are being massacred as we speak", he said. "Tamil people are being massacred just for being Tamil. Human rights need to be respected wherever they are, whether that's Kosovo, East Timor, Palestine, or Sri Lanka — anywhere.

"And that's why we're here protesting today. We will not stop our protest until our demands are met."

The protest also called for the Australian government to cut off economic ties with Sri Lanka, and for a boycott of Sri Lankan products. Tamil activist Thushanthan Mohanarajah told Green Left Weekly: "Whoever buys Sri Lankan products are giving funding to the Sri Lankan government to buy bombs.

"By trading with Sri Lanka, Australia is being complicit with the genocide of the Tamil people."

Mohanarajah said Tamils would continue protesting around the world until the Sri Lankan government ended its murderous war.

'We can't let this happen'

Sydney Tamil activist Geetha Mano told GLW emotions were running high in the Tamil community.

"It was an instantaneous [decision] for the protest to block to road", she said. "People are quite desperate and disheartened by what's going on in the country. It's a matter of urgency at the moment to put an end to this war. We've lost so many people. We can't let this go on."

Mano said the Tamil community had responded fast to calls for protests. "We've organised [protests] overnight through SMS and email but people still come out", she said. "Mothers, women, children still come out in numbers.

"If [the SLA] go on like this they are pretty much going to murder our race. Our race is going to be wiped out and we can't let this happen."

Mano said protests internationally were having an impact. The governments of South Africa, Britain, France and the US have called for the Sri Lankan government to enter into a ceasefire.

"International pressure is building", she said. "It's coming from all angles. I believe that if we keep going we are able to make some difference. Extra pressure from the international community would make a difference."

The Australian government, however, has still not called for a ceasefire. "The Australian government can do much more than they are doing at the moment", Mano said.

"[Australian Tamils] are getting disheartened about the response of the Australian government. We're protesting to add extra pressure on the Australian government to push for an immediate ceasefire, to start sanctions and [cut] trade links [with the Sri Lankan regime]."

Melbourne rally

Hundreds of Tamils also took to the streets in Melbourne on April 28. The emergency rally was organised by the Tamil Youth Organisation.

The protesters gathered at Federation Square in Melbourne's CBD and handed out leaflets to passers-by about the critical situation in the north-east of the island.

The protesters marched to Government House. They presented a petition from the Victorian Tamil community addressed to the Victorian governor.

The petition asked for an Australian envoy to be sent to Sri Lanka. It also called for the Australian government to call for a ceasefire and support urgent peace talks between the two parties and a negotiated political settlement to the conflict.

The petitioners also want pressure to be put on the Sri Lankan government to allow desperately needed food and medical aid into the conflict zone.

The Melbourne protest was followed by an 800-strong Tamil community candlelight vigil in the CBD and a march to parliament.

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