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Oxford Union cancels address by the President

Threat of mass protests by Tamil activists against Mahinda Rajapaska

(December 02, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Oxford Union has cancelled an address by the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, citing security concerns posed by the threat of protests by Tamil activists. The president arrived in the UK on Monday but yesterday it was revealed that lawyers working for Tamil groups were attempting to obtain a war crimes arrest warrant against him and senior members of his entourage. Rajapaksa's government defeated the separatist Tamil Tigers last year amid humanitarian protests about the treatment of civilians trapped in the war zone.

Last month the prime minister, David Cameron, endorsed calls for an independent investigation into the end of the Sri Lankan civil war.

The main purpose of the visit by Sri Lanka's head of state was to deliver a speech at the Oxford Union but he is also due to meet Liam Fox. A spokesman for the defence secretary said that the talks were "in a private capacity".

Announcing the cancellation address, the Oxford Union said: "Since the invitation was first accepted by Mr Rajapaksa, the union has consulted extensively with Thames Valley Police as well as the Sri Lankan high commission in London on security arrangements for the president's visit.

"Due to security concerns surrounding Mr Rajapaksa's visit which have recently been brought to our attention by the police, the union has regretfully found that the talk is no longer practicable and has had to cancel his address.

"This decision was not taken lightly and the union deeply regrets the cancellation. The union has a long tradition of hosting prominent speakers and upholding the principles of free speech. However, due to the sheer scale of the expected protests, we do not feel that the talk can reasonably and safely go ahead as planned.

"The union holds a politically neutral stance with regards to speakers and the decision was not made in relation to any aspect of Mr Rajapaksa's political position, the policies of his administration or any allegations against his government."

Rajapaksa last spoke at the Oxford Union in 2008. Last year thousands of Tamils blockaded Parliament Square in Westminster for several weeks to draw attention to the fighting in Sri Lanka. There are estimated to be as many as 300,000 people of Tamil descent in the UK.


Statement from The Oxford Union on the visit of President Rajapaksa:


Earlier this year, The Oxford Union invited the current President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to address our members at a date convenient to him. The Union has a policy of inviting a broad range of prominent politicians and heads of state from around the world and the invitation to Mr. Rajapaksa was made within the context of this policy.

Since the invitation was first accepted by Mr. Rajapaksa, the Union has consulted extensively with Thames Valley Police as well as the Sri Lankan High Commission in London on security arrangements for the President’s visit. Due to security concerns surrounding Mr. Rajapaksa’s visit which have recently been brought to our attention by the police, the Union has regretfully found that the talk is no longer practicable and has had to cancel his address.

This decision was not taken lightly and the Union deeply regrets the cancellation. The Union has a long tradition of hosting prominent speakers and upholding the principles of free speech. However, due to the sheer scale of the expected protests, we do not feel that the talk can reasonably and safely go ahead as planned.

The Union holds a politically neutral stance with regards to speakers and the decision was not made in relation to any aspect of Mr. Rajapaksa’s political position, the policies of his administration or any allegations against his government. As the President of Sri Lanka for the last five years, the Union felt that Mr. Rajapaksa would provide a unique insight into the political climate of the region in his speech. The Union wishes to apologise to our members for this unfortunate cancellation.

Oxford Union Society
Alistair Walker
Press Officer


Statement issued by Mr Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka: 


For security reasons the speech by His Excellency President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka at the Oxford Union, the home of free speech, has been cancelled. This is a decision that has been made unilaterally by the Oxford Union, reportedly as a result of pressure applied by pro-LTTE activists.

His Excellency said:

“I am very sorry this has had to be cancelled but I will continue to seek venues in the UK and elsewhere where I can talk about my future vision for Sri Lanka.”
His Excellency went on to say:

“I will also continue in my efforts to unite all the people of our country whether they live in Sri Lanka or overseas.

As a united country we have a great future.

If we allow divisions to dominate we will not realise our true potential.
We have had thirty years of division and conflict. We must now secure peace and harmony for all Sri Lankans.”

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