Anti-war activists march in Sri Lankan to honor slain Tamil lawmaker, demand peace
Mon November 13, 2006 06:18 EST .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Thousands of anti-war activists paraded the body of an assassinated Tamil lawmaker through the streets of the capital on Monday to demand an end to fighting that has killed more than 3,000 Sri Lankans this year.
Police armed with assault rifles mingled with the marchers and trucks carrying anti-riot police followed the procession. Soldiers were deployed along the route and at government offices.
Organizers of the rally, the National Anti-War Front _ a coalition of 120 civic groups, human rights organizations and opposition parties _ called also for a strike in Colombo to protest the renewed violence between government forces and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.
Many Tamil-owned shops adhered to that call and remained shuttered Monday, with white flags fluttering outside.
Some 4,000 protesters joined the march, according to Colombo's police chief Pujitha Jayasundara.
A hearse carrying the body of Nadaraja Raviraj, a Tamil lawmaker of the pro-rebel Tamil National Alliance party who was shot to death in broad daylight on Friday, joined the march. His bodyguard also died in the attack.
Raviraj's party blamed the government for the killing, but the administration has denied involvement.
Most of the marchers carried placards reading ``Shame'' as they walked toward a popular park. ``Live and let live,'' one poster read. ``Stop crime against humanity,'' said another.
Many fear that near-daily attacks and killings are driving the country back to full-scale war, although the government and Tamil Tiger rebels both say a 2002 cease-fire _ which halted two decades of civil war _ is still in place.
The Defense Ministry says 3,289 people have died in the fighting this year, including 860 government security personnel, 549 civilians and 1,880 rebels. The rebels don't generally release casualty figures.
A dispute over a blocked highway has been enflamed by the lawmakers death.
Raviraj's family and party want to drive his body to Chavakachcheri, his hometown in the northern Jaffna peninsula. But the military has blocked the main A-9 highway to the rebel-controlled area, saying the move is necessary to stop rebels transporting weapons and fighters into government-held areas.
``Interested parties should not make the opening of the A-9 road an issue for narrow political gain,'' said chief government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.
The government said it would fly Raviraj's body to Jaffna for cremation. His party said no formal offer had been made and that it has chartered an air force plane to fly the casket.
Raviraj's body will be kept for public viewing in Jaffna and cremated on Wednesday, lawmaker Suresh Premachandran said.
Arguments over the highway led to the collapse of peace talks in Switzerland last month aimed at salvaging the 2002 cease-fire.
Meanwhile, the military reported on its Web site that Tamil Tiger rebels killed two Tamil civilians _ Ravi Sanjeewan, 15, and Kangarupan Kelli, 21 _ in Jaffna on Sunday. The military did not suggest a motive for the killings. Calls to rebel headquarters rang unanswered Monday.
The rebels began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east for the minority Tamils, citing discrimination by the ethnic Sinhalese majority.
Published: Mon Nov 13 09:01:36 EST 2006