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S.Lanka president’s India visit marred by protests

[AFP, Wednesday, 9 June 2010 15:16 No Comment]

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse (L) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse on Wednesday began his first foreign trip to influential neighbour India since being re-elected, in a visit that has drawn protests from Indian Tamils.

Rajapakse, who was re-elected in January on the back of a resounding victory over Tamil separatists that ended a 37-year-long civil war last May, has come under fire for his treatment of Tamil civilians.

The United Nations estimates 7,000 of them died in the final stages of the fighting and hundreds of thousands were displaced by the military campaign in the rebel former strongholds in the island’s north and east.

In New Delhi, Rajapakse discussed the resettlement of an estimated 80,000 Tamils still living in government-run camps during talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior government ministers, an official told AFP.

Both sides also discussed Colombo’s plans for a "reconciliation commission" aimed at fostering unity between the majority Sinhalese population and the minority Tamils at the root of the separatist conflict.

The civil war is estimated to have claimed up to 100,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

India, which has some 62 million Tamils in its southern Tamil Nadu state, wields considerable diplomatic influence over Colombo and has been urging the island nation to step up efforts to heal the rift between the two communities.

Tamils in India and Sri Lanka share close cultural and religious links.

In New Delhi, a delegation of Tamil MPs from the ruling Congress and its regional ally, the DMK, also met Rajapakse over the issue.

On Tuesday, Tamils protested Rajapakse’s visit in front of the Sri Lankan consulate in Chennai city, capital of Tamil Nadu state.

"Having massacred scores of Tamils, Rajapakse had no moral right to enter India with his blood-stained hands," said Vaiko, a top Tamil politician and staunch supporter of the rebel Tamil Tigers.

[Full Coverage]

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