Tamils plan weekend mass march on Westminster

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The Independent Online

The two Tamil protesters who are on a hunger strike outside the Houses of Parliament have accepted a few sips of water in return for a promise from MPs that their case will be heard.

Sivatharsan Sivakumaravel, 21, and Parameswarn Subramaniyan, 28, who have not eaten anything since 10am on Monday, were visited by two MPs late on Thursday night. Both are in danger of renal failure.

The Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes and Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, where the two hunger strikers live, said they would speak to Des Browne, the UK's special envoy to Sri Lanka, on the hunger strikers' behalf. The pair reportedly said they would take fluids, but not solids. Ms McDonagh agreed to arrange a visit to New York so they can lobby the United Nations.

Both accepted the offer, but still refused to drink unless the MPs promised to return with a statement for them to sign. Yesterday, no statement was produced, and the pair have since resumed their strike. They remain seriously dehydrated. Ms McDonagh, who has visited the protesters regularly and has a large Tamil population within her Mitcham and Morden constituency in south London, said she had made no firm promises.

Mr Hughes yesterday was trying to negotiate with police to allow the protesters permission to continue their occupation for another week. He said: "There's very wide political support for urgent action in Sri Lanka to avert a terrible crisis in lives and liberty. Politicians from across the parties in the UK are willing to work with the community here to try to get political movement in the next few days.

"I'm grateful the two young men have agreed to take fluids now while negotiations continue. I hope, by the end of today, a political strategy for delegations to the UN, Washington, Brussels and the Commonwealth Secretary in London will be in place to take place next week."

About 300 rain-soaked demonstrators continued their protest for the fifth straight day in Parliament Square yesterday. Mr Sivakumaravel said: "Every single person here has relatives in Sri Lanka. They are killing them. We have a responsibility to save them and the British Government has a responsibility to save them."

Mr Sivakumaravel and Mr Subramaniyan have said they hope their actions will bring about a ceasefire in Sri Lanka, and allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to civilians in the designated "safe zone" in the north of the country.

Many thousands more protestors are expected to descend on the capital today for a mass march. They plan to meet at Embankment at 1pm and proceed to Hyde Park where they will hold a rally throughout the afternoon. In contrast to last week's protests, which were unscheduled, today's march has been planned for some time.

A friend of the hunger strikers, student Harry Shanmugathas, 24, said yesterday: "Tomorrow is a huge day, and people are coming from everywhere – France, Germany and Switzerland. All of the Tamil people want to say thank you to The Independent, because it has been the only newspaper who has covered this. The whole world knows about us today."

The march is calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the fighting between the Tamil Tiger rebels and the Sri Lankan army, in which large numbers of civilian Tamils have been killed. Organisers are hoping to persuade the UK Government and the international community to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to stop the fighting. So far, Sri Lanka has rejected international calls for a ceasefire, claiming it is on the verge of defeating the Tigers, a rebel group fighting for an independent homeland. At the end of January, a similar march attracted about 50,000 people. Many more are expected this time after the recent protests in the heart of London. Organisers are encouraging every Tamil person who attends to bring at least one sympathetic non-Tamil friend in the hope of boosting their numbers.

Suren Surendiran, a spokesman for the British Tamil Forum, which is organising the march, said: "This is not about making speeches; it's about doing something that will make the war stop. Gordon Brown and David Miliband have been calling for a ceasefire and we are very appreciative of that, but calling is not enough. They need to take this to the UN."