Protesters Disrupt Sri Lankan Independence Day Celebrations in LosAngeles

They Demand Resignation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe

By Hassina Leelarathna (Sri Lanka Express)

Los Angeles, CA : Feb. 4 -- The Sri Lankan government’s official 54th Independence Day celebrations, held at the Consulate General’s office in Los Angeles today, were disrupted when a protester made his way to the midst of the proceedings and demanded that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe resign from his position.

© Gamini Edirisinghe

Carrying a poster that said in bold letters ‘Ranil Resign,’ Sinhala Defense League President Walter Jayawardhana, who also a well-known Sri Lankan journalist, suddenly sprang towards the podium and stopped a Consulate official from reading the Independence Day message of Prime Minister Wickremasinghe.

The incident occurred just as Deputy Consul Mr. Dharmasena completed reading President Kumaratunga’s message and announced that he would be reading Prime Minister Wickremasinghe’s message next.

As startled Consulate staff and participants looked on, Jayawardhana shouted in Sinhalese that he too had a message, to be sent to Ranil Wickremasinghe.

“Thousands of Tamil children are being abducted from their homes by the terrorists, he [Prime Minister Wickremasinghe] is not doing anything to stop it and is simply watching. We demand his immediate resignation,” he shouted.

Consul General Tissa Wijeratne, visibly shocked, quickly tried to restrain him from saying anything further and led him away.

“We are boycotting this event and we are walking out in protest,” Jayawardhana shouted as he stormed out of the building followed by other members of the Defense League.

© Gamini Edirisinghe

After the protesters left, Mr. Dharmasena proceeded to read the Prime Minister’s message. No reference was made to the incident by Mr. Wijeratne who later took the podium to read out the President and Prime Minister’s messages in English and to make his own Independence Day address to the gathering.

Present at the ceremony was former Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament Mr., Anura Bandaranaike who is currently on a visit to Los Angeles.

About twelve Buddhist monks, two Catholic priests -- Father Flavian Wilathgamuwa and Father Damien Fernando – representatives of the local Tamil and Muslim communities, and about thirty people from the local Sri Lankan community participated in the event that was held at the Consulate General’s office on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Jayawardhana later told the SL Express that the Defense League was protesting the ‘UNP-LTTE nexus’ and the reckless manner in which the new UNP government led by Prime Minister Wickremasinghe was giving in to the demands of the terrorist group.

© Gamini Edirisinghe

This was the first known occasion when a protest was held inside the premises of a Sri Lankan mission abroad. Jayawardhana said they picked the Consul General’s office because they wanted the anger and disappointment of the expatriates who had worked hard over the years to have the LTTE banned to be conveyed not only to Prime Minister Wickremasinghe but to Foreign Minister Tyrone Fernando as well.

Several Sri Lankan expatriate organizations worldwide have expressed anger and disappointment at comments made recently by the new Foreign Minister criticizing his predecessor, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, for focusing on getting the LTTE banned in the U.S. and other countries. Numerous letters and articles have been emailed or posted on internet website on this issue.

“We have nothing against Consul General Tissa Wijeratne or his staff. They are all very nice people. But we cannot stand by and watch the alarming events in Sri Lanka without protest,” Jayawardhana said.

© Gamini Edirisinghe



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