Sri Lanka slams Oxford Union for cancelling president's talk
Sri Lanka's government lambasted the prestigious Oxford Union Thursday for cancelling a talk by President Mahinda Rajapakse following protests from ethnic Tamil groups.
Rajapakse was scheduled to make a speech to the union, Oxford University's debating society, which has hosted speakers ranging from Michael Jackson to the Dalai Lama, but this was cancelled Thursday because of security concerns.
The visit drew protests from Tamil groups, which accused Rajapakse of war crimes while crushing ethnic Tamil rebels last year. They called for him and key members of his entourage to be arrested.
Sri Lanka's government said in a statement the Oxford Union leaders had shown they were "incapable of living up to the laudable standards of those who went before them in upholding their belief in the freedom of speech."
The statement claimed that remnants of the defeated rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had pressured the union to cancel the event, "regrettably supported by a handful of the foreign media."
Rajapakse himself said in a statement shortly after the cancellation that he was "very sorry" that he could not deliver his speech, but would look for other venues in Britain to get his message across.
The Oxford Union said regretted having to cancel the speech and that the decision was "not taken lightly."
At home, Rajapakse is accused of cracking down on political rivals and media freedoms, charges he has vehemently rejected.
Sri Lanka's army defeated the Tamil Tiger separatists in May after nearly four decades of ethnic bloodshed in which the United Nations estimates between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed.
© 2010 AFP