Protests force Canadian politicians to acknowledge Tamil cause

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Toronto/Ottawa, May 12 (ANI): Protests by Canadian Tamil demonstrators in Toronto have brought the issue of the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils to the front pages here, so much so, that now Canadian politicians in Ottawa are taking notice and cautiously condemning the ongoing Sri Lankan Army operations, reports the Globe and Mail newspaper.

The Stephen Harper government has said that it is open to identifying and speaking with Canadian Tamil leaders and, in a rare move, praised NDP Leader Jack Layton for co-ordinating the "dissipation" of Sunday's demonstration.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also expressed his sympathy for Sri Lanka's minority Tamils, who are caught between government forces and the Tamil Tigers, which Canada declared a terrorist group in 2006.

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda expressed the government's support, but added that Tamil Tiger flags waved by some protesters may give the impression "the terrorist organization is part of the demonstrations."

In Toronto Sunday night, demonstrators included young women and children. Images show some protesters grabbing police bicycles and throwing them at officers. Three people were arrested and charged.

Sunday's protest, along with similar ones in London, England, and Washington, came amidst reports that shelling in Sri Lanka's war zone had killed at least 378 civilians. By Monday night, doctors in the region estimated that as many as 1,000 civilians had died.

"This is a desperate humanitarian situation and I think a lot of Canadians want to see the bombing stop. That's I think why you're seeing a growing concern," Layton said.

The political reactions stood in contrast to Ottawa's silence on similar protests that closed Toronto streets over the past few months. Many politicians continue to keep their distance from any protest involving suggestions of support for the Tigers.

On Monday, protesters outside Queen's Park and Toronto's Sri Lankan consulate hailed Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran as "our national leader, our glorious leader." They carried red flags with the image of a tiger and rifles that was the emblem of the Tigers until 1990. It's now a symbol of the secessionist Tamil Eelam initiative, but evokes the Tiger movement.

Oda insisted the Harper government will "have meetings with any Tamil community representative that [is] not part of a terrorist organization."

Tamil-Canadian leaders continued to call on the Canadian government to push for a ceasefire.

David Poopalapillai, a spokesman with the Canadian Tamil Congress, said messages from the Liberals and NDP helped diffuse Sunday's protest, and praised the Tories for agreeing to a meeting. (ANI)

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