The Sunday Leader

Chaos In London Marks P.R. Disaster

  • Intruder At Dorchester Enrages President
  • A Horrible Week For Sri Lanka

The week that has just ended will undoubtedly go down in history as the singular most disastrous one for Sri Lanka internationally.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa took on the challenge and accepted the invitation to address the Oxford Union in a show of faith that the Sri Lanka’s government has nothing to hide and fears absolutely no one in terms of threats of prosecution for crimes against humanity or war crimes – and flew into the bastion of democracy and parliamentary politics to a storm of gigantic proportions. Not only was he met with hundreds of LTTE-supporting Diaspora but faced a cancellation from the prestigious Oxford Union Society to boot and of course there was the small matter of the so-called latest “revelations” from Britain’s Channel 4 Television network.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Placard carrying Tamil demonstrators waiting for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to arrive at Heathrow and Chaotic scenes at London’s Heathrow airport

As always, Channel 4 released its “new evidence” at a crucial moment for Sri Lanka.
Clearly the revelations from Channel 4 News was – to the average viewer at least –  perceived as being another feather in the cap of what has now proven to be the colossus that is the media department of the LTTE. And it is not stronger anywhere in the world than in Great Britain. Over 300,000 Tamil Diaspora have made Britain their home whether through purely legitimate means or illegitimate means but the fact is they are in Britain and they count when it comes to marginal constituencies for all three major political parties in Queen Elizabeth’s Britain – with or without the Great.
Channel 4’s latest pronouncements were brushed aside by the Sri Lankan High Commission in London as being pure and simply an “elongated version of what was previously broadcast” – but that was not enough for the professionals at Channel 4 News. They were adamant that the video was genuine, it had not been dubbed and they promptly sent it to the United Nations panel investigating whether or not Sri Lanka has a case to answer in terms of crimes against humanity. The President ordered his Foreign Minister to deal with it which he duly did in the form of a well attended press conference.
The President’s departure itself did not augur well. Forty five passports were submitted to the British High Commission but due to the exceedingly short time period 18 of the passports including that of the Chairman of SriLankan Airlines did not come back with the necessary visa. The President ordered that they resubmit the passports and catch the flight to London the next day. Eventually Mrs. Rajapaksa did not actually arrive having been alerted that the visit was breaking apart at the seams with the Oxford Union cancelling.
The President arrived in London and checked in to the ultra plush Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane; the High Commission had booked rooms in many of the British capital’s leading hotels: the Hilton on Park Lane, on Edgware Road and the Lancaster Hotel which was ever so convenient being within spitting distance of the High Commission in Hyde Park Garden. Indeed it is within a snowball’s throw of the High Commission as S.B. Dissanayaka was to find out later in the week. Occupying the suite that the legendary pop star Michael Jackson also once occupied, the President was well shielded from the unusually cold weather — indeed the snow too, and of course from the hundreds of Tamil Diaspora who decided to protest by camping in front of the hotel and the High Commission offices.
These did not worry the President in the least, having had protests of the same type in Colombo too in a career spanning some 40 years. They were chanting “Rajapaksa murderer,” “Rajapaksa be damned” and “Rajapaksa the perpetrator of war crimes” but this had little effect on the President who was insulated from the din the protesters created. At Heathrow airport around 200 valiant supporters of the LTTE were present, complete with  LTTE flags and created a huge din – only to find out that the Presidential entourage had exited via the VIP exit away from the chaos enacted inside the public arrivals area.
The accompanying ministers and MPs, especially Sajin Vaas Gunawardena and G.L. Peiris, were busy meeting with various British officials in an attempt to secure for the President high profile meetings which alas came to nought, apart from the arrival of Dr. Liam Fox who has an abiding interest in Sri Lankan affairs going back many years. Dr. Fox’s office however was quick to announce that Dr. Fox’s attendance was in his private capacity.
Contrary to numerous claims, the relationship with the Government of Sri Lanka and the public relations firm Bell Pottinger has been described as “never… better”. The interview with the Times of London newspaper was however contentious with plenty of complaints that the President’s answers were taken out of context. Tim Ryan, the Bell Pottinger chief, had given the President a candid take on Sri Lanka’s reputation describing that their job was to fight through the 30% adverse impact Sri Lanka currently has and had forewarned the President not to expect too much from the one interview to a national British newspaper. There were others however, who had a different take: that the President would make a better impact with a television interview, where the combination of TV and the internet would make a far bigger impact.
On Thursday, December 2 evening,  the President attended a function at the Sri Lanka High Commission. A large crowd of protesters outside, were chanting and generally causing great inconvenience to the residents and traffic around the area. However when they saw a plush limousine leaving, the crowd surged towards it. S.B. Dissanayaka later described that the vehicle he was travelling in was  hit by “stones” – until it was pointed out that there are no stones and pebbles just lying around the well-paved streets of London! It was then accepted that the vehicles were attacked by snowballs thrown by the protesters. SB maintained he was hit by ‘a large stone.’
The President however made his exit from the High Commission with little fuss and returned to the Dorchester. He had just been made aware that the LTTE-leaning Diaspora had obtained a warrant against all the military security personnel in his entourage and that the suggestion was that the Diaspora were attempting a “mass arrest.”
The President ordered that the military personnel be returned to Colombo but was immediately struck down by those very men who made it clear that they were most definitely not leaving “Sir” and going back. Confronted with this brand of loyalty the President decided to immediately return to Sri Lanka – and a hurried check-out was made. The President’s security personnel – police and army – were so rushed that transport was not immediately available. Therefore, a luggage room, No. 740 at the Dorchester was used to store all the bags.
The President was adamant about staying the length of his planned visit and return on Friday. He said that he was not scared, he had no need to be afraid and he would never be afraid. It was to his great consternation that he found himself being dictated to by his security personnel who refused to leave him with the police personnel in the entourage.
The aircraft that had brought Lalith Weeratunga to London had been kept back in London – to be on stand-by after the Oxford Union cancelled their invitation. It was this aircraft that was utilized by the Presidential entourage as well as regular passengers flying SriLankan from London. However there was a slight change as ordered by Sajin Vaas Gunawardena: the stop en-route in Male was removed and Colombo made the first stop.
The Diaspora rumour machinery was hard at work claiming that the President had actually not left London but instead was holed up in the VIP area of Heathrow. These claims had no basis whatsoever as established independently by The Sunday Leader. The President arrived back in Colombo at approximately 3 pm Friday afternoon.
Prior to his hurried departure, on Wednesday evening the President was quite calm and relaxed and spent time meeting members of the Sri Lankan community who had called on him at the Dorchester. A steady and almost never ending stream of visitors were all personally greeted by the President. During this session, a man who told the President that he was a Tamil and that he had connections to the website TamilNet and to Oxford and Cambridge to boot, also did the rounds even going so far as to enter the bedrooms in the Presidential Suite; the President smelling a rat propelled the man away and immediately raised the alarm himself in choice language which would have put Dutugemunu to shame.
He demanded to know what was happening from his security people, saying all they did was to strut up and down in their ties and suits but they were not even aware of who was coming into contact with the President. “I may well have been killed,” he thundered only to be told that the man had entered with High Commission staff. Not true said the High Commission. With G.L. Peiris said another. Not true. Those close to the President moved a discreet distance away whilst the President continued sternly admonishing his security detail. Sajin Vaas being the only one around who didn’t move away, it was left to him to soothe the President. Many in the entourage said that there were many “Mohideens and Babus” around the President in a reference to the assassins of President Premadasa.
However, the Times of London photographer was not allowed to bring his gear in; though security relented at the last minute after a ministerial intervention.
The President ordered G.L. Peiris to check on the videos released by Channel 4 including the short footage on Colonel Ram who the Diaspora claim was killed by the forces whilst in custody. Colonel Ram was a prominent LTTE cadre operating in Batticaloa and the video shows him visibly terrified – the question being asked as to why the recording was made and more pertinently how it ended up in the hands of the Diaspora. Sources knowledgeable on military matters said that it indicated the full impact that Sarath Fonseka’s Military Intelligence Unit had at the time.
Of great concern to President Rajapaksa of course was the cancellation of the Oxford Union talk. Not so much because he was not able to deliver that talk but that he was disappointed that aspiring politicians – as indeed the members of the Oxford Union have been for generations – succumbed to the threats of disruption and violence by groups very much aligned to a world-class terror organisation which was roundly defeated by the Sri Lankan military.
The President was of the view that the pro LTTE Diaspora, never really expected that he would take on the invitation to attend Oxford. He was more disappointed that the event did not go ahead as he had made the opportunity of a Question and Answer session – no holds barred as he put it – at a location which he described himself as the cradle of free speech. It proved, the President told members of his inner nexus that Sri Lanka had nothing to hide. In the past there were veiled threats of exercising lax International Jurisdiction laws in Britain against him. He was in Britain for five days and the LTTE-elements had failed in their attempts – instead obtaining a rather “vexatious” warrant against Major General Chagi Gallage.
Nirj Deva Aditya, the MP who has a long history of supporting Sri Lankan issues was scathing in his condemnation of the Oxford Union Society. Describing the cancellation as “outrageous” and clearly “lacking in spine” Nirj Deva posed the contentious question as to whether these students had the necessary mettle to be politicians of the future if they were in effect giving way to terror threats. In a climate where globally countries are united in their resolve not to negotiate with terrorists – as in the case of Somali pirates for example – Deva appeared to be reflecting popular international sentiment on these issues.
Diplomatic analysts in London pointed out that the claims made by Channel 4 was not referred to by the BBC giving rise to thought that Channel 4 appears to be toeing a very pro-LTTE line. Professor G.L. Peiris noted that each time Channel 4 released “sensational” evidence it almost always coincided with a PR-sensitive time for Sri Lanka. That in itself was simply more than a coincidence, though sources at Channel 4 were quick to deny that – saying that they had very much more evidence some of which was far too gruesome to broadcast.
All in all, President Rajapaksa’s decision to visit Britain and in effect throw the gauntlet at the Diaspora who the Government of Sri Lanka say are hindering the progress that unity would bring turned out to be a PR disaster. That in turn is highly unlikely to go away unless and until the government in Colombo makes full and frank statements on matters that drive the allegations machinery: the thousands of photographs and reports of atrocities. There is no time like the present for the government to do so than now. A clear case of needing to have an ambience of Mutatis Mutandis today rather than tomorrow.

20 Comments for “Chaos In London Marks P.R. Disaster”

  1. Perera

    It is real shame for MR and the country of SriLanka.
    This is how our politicians think whatever they do is right.
    This incident is well planed by LTTE .But MR get caught easily into their trap.
    So overall, unless we solved ethnic problem….it would be bad bad …..bad. And also may lead to seporation of the country and they may easily make eelam . So wake up and act now

  2. Rajah

    “Describing the cancellation as “outrageous” and clearly “lacking in spine” Nirj Deva posed the contentious question as to whether these students had the necessary mettle to be politicians of the future if they were in effect giving way to terror threats. In a climate where globally countries are united in their resolve not to negotiate with terrorists – as in the case of Somali pirates for example – Deva appeared to be reflecting popular international sentiment on these issues.”

    This is false. The Tamil Diaspora never made any “terror” threats or threats of “violence” during Rajapaksa’s visit. They were planning massive protests – a protest is not a terror threat in the civilised world.

  3. Johan

    Yes, the LTTE too never made any ‘terror’ threats or threats of ‘violence’, but that never stopped them did it?

  4. Lokka

    cleverly put – as only a true new Brit could. ever heard of the notion “to say and do the nastiest thing in th nicest way?” thats called diplomacy which is how one describes the personal threats delivered to dilan fernando and james kingston of the oxford union

  5. James

    TAMIL DIASPORA IS VERY CAPABLE OF MAKING TERROR THREATS AND THERE ARE ENOUGH AND MORE EVIDENCES OF THEIR DOING SO IN THE PAST .TAMIL DIASPORA CONSISTS OF SOME SUICIDE CARDERS AND HARD CORE L.T.T.E MEMBERS AND WILL SHOW THEIR COLORS IN TIME TO COME.
    IT’S TIME THE REAL BRITISH TO FIND ANOTHER PLACE TO LIVE AS THEIR GOVERNMENTS ARE MORE CONCERN ABOUT THE WELL BEING OF TAMIL DIASPORA THAN THEIR OWN PEOPLE.

  6. punchinilame

    The master of deception could still do his act – publish what he wanted to say
    in that cancelled “debate” or else was this a “stunt” for local consumption – to
    outdo the Budget let-down?
    The right to free speech is the same as the right to protest – in UK at least. So
    why make a fuss – The protesters are identified as LTTE – so much so that all
    protests by Tamils are so identified by the GOSL? In Sri Lanka only Weerawansa has Licence to Protest.
    Had the master of deception at least made one good move towards the ethnic
    problem, in the 18 months, he would have been anxiously listened to by the Tamil World, through the activities of 8 UK sinhala students? This is the way forward!

    It all boils down to a PR stunt by Pottingers for the money, thereby giving also an opportunity to the UK Media – which it cannot afford to miss.

    Media

  7. krishan canagasabey

    There is no place on planet earth to hide for WAR CRIMINALS, no where, whoever it is, even a head of state.

  8. Rathanavali

    The time has come to create an environment to stop all such protests. The only way to achieve that goal is by addressing the just grievances of Tamil people. Re-settle all Tamil refugees, build homes where necessary, provide education for Tamil children, rehabilitate and re-settle LTTErs, give the Tamil people the right to govern their areas with Tamil majority representation in northern and eastern provincial councils and stop colonizing these areas with Sinhala settlers. In short, make the Tamil people part of our society by giving recognition to their rights. Let us also not forget that there should be a proper investigation into civilian deaths during the war. This is something that needs to be done, if we are to move forward as ‘one country – one people’.

  9. Fancy Janz

    Wattsla or who ever you are.
    WHY ONLY LTTE PROTESTERS PHOTOS AND FLAGS HERE? THERE WAS SRI LANKAN’s ON THE STREET WITH SRI LANKAN FLAG TO WELCOME PRESIDENT RAJAPAKSA. SUNDAY LEADER HAS A STRANGE WAY OF JOURNALISM. well we can remember LASANTHA WAS Also a LTTE SYMPATHISER THOSE DAY’s.

  10. ranjan

    Once again UK showed the double standard over terrorists.Mahintha rajapaksha did not listen to uk order to stop the assault on LTTE.
    Briton main export is arms,militory weopons.Any fool will know who supports terrorists all over the world as long as it suits them.
    MY MAIN POINT IS HEATHROW AIR PORT IS A HIGH SECURITY ZONE. NORMALY ORDINARY PEOPLE NOT ALLOWED TO STAND IN GROUPS.
    Due to terror threat even mothers cant take liquid milk with them in to heathrow air port .How come they allowed nearly500 members to pack the airport.IF IT IS A AMERICAN PRESIDENT OBAMA VISITS BRITON WILL THERE ANY ORDINARY ASIAN LOOKING PEOPLE ALLOW NEAR AIR PORT?
    BRITON WANTS TO DISRESPECT SRILANKAN PRESIDENT for eliminating terrorisam from srilanka.briton did that by our so called own traitor srilankans.Still in srilankan blood if a white person say some thing we will bend our knees and say YES SIR,NO SIR,TREE BAGS FULL SIR but our president did not listen to these selfish rich countries.

    But my point is mahintha is apower full man in srilanka ,all former LTTE supporters and advisers are sorrounded MAHINTHA.they are feeding him with wrong information about world politics like they did to piraba.there with him for a quick buck.LIke SRI RANGA who did accompany MAHINTHA in this uk visit.allthese people were once LTTE supporters now sorrounded MAHINTHA.

  11. Mala

    WHAT is Democracy? MR believed that democracy means elected politicians can do whatever they like. A good friend becomes a prisoner because he contested against him. Journalist critical of the regime killed, disappears or imprisoned without trial, MPs killed. NO ONE can express what they believe in.
    Democracy in UK is new to him. No wonder he was annoyed. Students, Rail, fire workers, pensioners can protest against the government. I can make a public speech in Hyde Park corner about anything. In UK protests, media, journalism, freedom of speech Tamil national flags etc cannot be stopped.
    All Tamils are sympathisers for what the LTTE fought for. They are FREEDOM FIGHTORS. LTTE is created by the Sinhala government. After 9/11 MR was able to cover the problem with a sheet ‘Fight against terrorism’ using very expensive PR methods.
    Now the whole world knows about MR regime. Learned Tamil Diaspora will continue to work so that MR, his brothers, army personnel will not be able to step in to Europe & other democratic countries. MR has no choice. He has to bow down to international requests. He cannot live under the wings of India & China for long. Politics in India will change soon. Will he allow china to take over Srilanka fully? I hope he realises the Importance of making the right decision to save the beautiful island from predators.

  12. Wombat killer

    Goes to show that no one really cares for a corrupt from a small little under developed poor country like SL.

  13. ajja

    How many Tamils living in Colombo? let’s send equal amount of Sinhalese to Jaffna. Let’s shpw them what it’s worth this is not one sided affair. We should fund these Sinhalese. send them to East too. let’s stop all these Tamil Expats returning to Sri Lanka. And see what they will coem ups with? Stop teaching Tamil isn State schools. What in UK do they speak only Welsh in Wales or Only Scottish in Scotland. Everyone speaks English and National Anthem God Save the Queen in English. Do the British MPS ask for War crimes tribunal for Tonly Blair for sending troops to Kill Iraqis? Those British MPS themselves are war criminals.

    • sri

      Acha acha! At least there is a Wales where Welshman can speak Welsh and have their own parliament, the Scottish can speak Scottish language with their own paliament and even their own currency -the Scottish £ equivalent to the British £ , the Northen Irish can speak in Irish language and have their own parliament,all with devolved functions and fianancial responsbilities! Despite your fillibuster you are speaking some sound sense in the 21st Century.

      Time to learn and not take SL back to the 100 BC! Mass murder is mass murder. Not all the denials, recriminations and tirades can silence the world outside because we do not live in the Dark Ages. If the devolution package of 1956 by late SWRDB had been implemented and not politicised for purely party electoral gain SL would not have gone through all this misery, bloodshed, and “hara kiri”!

      Never too late to learn.

  14. Rattapakse

    What an amnesia we have!!!

    We can comfortably deny visa to Des Browne, the special envoy of the British PM.

    We can insult the visting FS of UK, David Miliband.

    We can sent in bravo, Wimal to protest in front of the British mission.

    Yet, we want the Brits to forget all of those and treat our Prez nicely when he visit their country.

    What the Brits did was to teach a leasson using our own citizens.

    Ever heard of protest allowed inside Heathrew Airport before? Channel 4, Oxford Union and Tamil Diaspore all acted in unison to cause maximun PR damage for what we did to them.

    A nice British revenge, that was.

    Don’t waste the time in dragging dead snake – LTTE.

  15. Buddhadasa

    This would be the last visit of His Excellency Hon Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa to a European country. Any bets ???????????????????????????????? $10million

  16. Lokka

    the fact remains that it is these LTTE diaspora seniors in the Uk and US etc who want to promote disunity amongst the tamils and sinhala peoples. They do so because if there was communal harmony, the diaspora will not “see” any threat and then the monies they are “donating” every month will dry up. The LTTE collectors of these monies will then have to go out and get regular jobs – difficult in the UK and US where there is a recession. They certainly will have to give up their US$ 10 Million mansions and get down to ground reality. This is the tak that the government has in hand and it is a task that cannot be solved like the war – because all these “collectors” live in countries that have overt democratic norms which allow them to operate freely. Look at the British – they allowed the LTTE flag to be displayed at Heathrow – yet the LTTE is a banned terrorist organisation in the UK. Says a lot for our Foreign Ministry and the High Commission -

  17. jason

    W e do not need the Tamil from uk or any part of the world to come back to srilanka. we can take care of our tamil brothers . lanka is our mother land we don’t need you .

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