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Jun-03-2012 13:56printcomments

A 'Warm' Jubilee Welcome

Rajapaksa arrives on SriLankan Airlines flight UL505 on the night of the 3rd of June at terminal four in Heathrow.


(LONDON) - Several songs have been composed urging British Tamils to rally together and extend President Rajapaksa a ‘warm’ welcome. One is a remix of the popular Tamil song ‘Kolaveri’. Facebook pages and email distribution lists have also been created by activists who have been twittering and sending thousands of SMS messages. All three Tamil language television channels and Tamil radio stations have been urging British Tamils to come together and demonstrate. Since the Mullaivaikal remembrance weekend the diaspora has been solely focused on the Rajapaksa visit.

As news of Rajapaksa’s visit seeped out, the diaspora began buzzing on how to counter it. Grass roots activists began lobbying MPs. Party activists had meetings with ministers and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) mandarins. Several meetings were also held with senior police officers in Scotland Yard.

The message from the establishment has been unequivocal. The United Kingdom is a free country and everyone has a right to protest. Furthermore, that such protest should be legal and the police should be informed. However, if British Tamils and human rights activists wish to exercise their democratic right and choose to protest, then it is entirely their prerogative. Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has once again given the green light to all those who seek to disrupt Rajapaksa’s visit.

FCO mandarins have made it clear, contrary to reports in the Sri Lankan press, that Rajapaksa has not secured any high level meetings with members of HMG. And, while the Prime Minister and Rajapaksa may be in the same room at a jubilee event with other heads of government, any meeting will not be exclusive. However, if discussions take place between the two in such an environment, they will be ‘tough’.

The only person who may be granted a high level meeting with HMG in Rajapaksa’s entourage will be Professor Peiris. A meeting with the Rt. Hon William Hague PC MP, the Foreign Secretary, has been pencilled in. FCO mandarins think that although being a dove, he is compelled to defend the regime’s line despite not believing it. Furthermore, it is thought that meetings with Peiris will not result in any damaging backblast to the establishment unlike Rajapaksa.

The reality is that the FCO did not want Rajapaksa to come. He is invited by the Commonwealth Secretariat (CS) as a part of its jubilee celebrations. Both the FCO and the CS had lengthy conversations on the suitability of inviting Rajapaksa. Its Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma was aware of the backlash that Rajapkse’s 2010 visit had generated. However the CS did not have the choice of excluding the next host of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting.

While Rajapaksa himself cannot be touched due to the diplomatic immunity he enjoys, everyone in London is watching his entourage. A top firm of Solicitors who specialise in human rights work have been retained with leading Queen’s Counsel briefed to secure an arrest warrant for anyone travelling with him tainted by allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Diaspora activists have received information that Rajapaksa will be arriving on SriLankan Airlines flight UL505 on the night of the 3rd of June at terminal four in Heathrow airport. VIP clearance has been requested and granted. If Rajapaksa sticks to this plan, there is no doubt whatsoever that he will receive a very ‘warm’ welcome on arrival. Of course, now that this is in the public domain it may be liable to change.

It is not clear where he and his entourage will stay, but once again the Dorchester hotel is the obvious choice. It is in very close proximity to the Sri Lankan High Commission. If there is risk of a warrant being served, one can easily flee to ‘Sri Lankan soil’ in the High Commission at Hyde Park Gardens.

It will be an eventful week whichever way you look at it. For Her Majesty’s subjects this is a unique opportunity to celebrate her remarkable reign. It is only the second time in British history we celebrate such an event. It could be for Rajapaksa and his entourage as well on his arrival, when he delivers his speech at the Mansion House on the 6th of June or during the intervening period.

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