Sri Lankan president regrets Oxford Union cancelling talk

1st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Sri Lanka's President expressed regret after the Oxford Union cancelled a scheduled speech by him amid security concerns, his office said in a statement Wednesday.

Rajapakse had travelled to London on Tuesday ahead of an address to the prestigious Oxford Union on Thursday, but the organisers said security considerations forced them to cancel his appearance.

"I am very sorry this has had to be canceled, but I will continue to seek venues in Britain and elsewhere where I can talk about my future vision for Sri Lanka," the president's office quoted him as saying.

Rajapakse's top aide, Lalith Weeratunga, said the Oxford Union had cancelled the talk following pressure from elements supporting Sri Lanka's defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

Sri Lanka's minority Tamil community in London had planned a demonstration to coincide with Thursday's event. They also staged a protest when Rajapakse arrived in London on Tuesday.

"This (cancellation) is a decision that has been made unilaterally by the Oxford Union, reportedly as a result of pressure applied by pro-LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) activists," Weeratunga said.

The Oxford Union, which has hosted speakers ranging from Michael Jackson to the Dalai Lama, in a statement defended its cancellation of Rajapakse's talk.

"This decision was not taken lightly and the Union deeply regrets the cancellation," it said. "The Union has a long tradition of hosting prominent speakers and upholding the principles of free speech."

Sri Lankan forces crushed Tamil Tiger rebels in May last year following a major military offensive that has also attracted allegations of war crimes which the administration vehemently denies.

© 2010 AFP

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