Met braced for further clashes with Tamil protesters

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The Independent Online

Riot Police were braced for further clashes with Tamil protesters in central London last night after forcibly breaking up another mass occupation of the roads around Parliament.

Ten Tamil demonstrators were arrested in Parliament Square as thousands of protesters responded to the reported death of the Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran by blockading roads. Twenty-one officers were injured.

About 300 pro-Tamil demonstrators have been holding a vigil outside the Houses of Parliament for 44 days. On Monday afternoon, at least 2,000 demonstrators descended upon the square as news filtered out that the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had been shot dead.

By yesterday evening the crowds had calmed again and been confined to the green, but numbers remained at around the 2,000-mark. Police had started pushing the protesters back after a two-minute silence ended shortly after midnight. A small section of the crowd reacted violently and threw placards at the police.

Karthika Shantha, a 21-year-old student at Imperial College, said: "There were a small number of young men who were reacting violently to the police. We kept trying to tell them to stop it and stay peaceful. The police responded by pushing us and hitting us. I saw a couple of girls get hit on the chest."

Rangadesch Palasooriyakumar, 29, from Mitcham, south-west London, said he was at the front of the crowd as police began moving the protesters back into the square. "Police started pushing us back, and people were falling over each other on the road," he said. "This caused a lot of anger and upset. I saw some sticks and some plastic bottles being thrown at police."

Although the first three days of the Tamil protests were illegal – under the "anti-terror" legislation which bans protests outside Parliament without a permit – the police have since given limited permission to demonstrate.

The only confirmation of Prabhakaran's death has come from the Sri Lankan military which means a large proportion of the crowd refuses to believe he is dead. Nimalan Seevaratnam, a 41-year-old lorry driver from Harrow, said: "[Prabhakaran] is the Robin Hood of the Tamils. He has long life and he will live much longer than anyone thinks."

Ms Shantha added: "We will stay because we are not just here for the LTTE. We are here for the Tamil civilians. The war might have stopped but they are still dying everyday. Britain and the international community must make sure that Sri Lanka provides for the innocent civilians."