By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan and T. Pratheepan
President Maithripala Sirisena took his security detail by surprise after he threw caution to the wind and abruptly alighted from his official vehicle to confront a group of protesters in Jaffna yesterday. The President was in Jaffna to inaugurate the National Tamil Language Day celebrations at the Jaffna Hindu College when the incident took place.
According to eyewitnesses the President had calmly walked up to the black flag waving protesters and inquired into their problems.
The protesters numbering around 75 and led by former MP M.K. Sivajilingam, along with Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) Leader Suresh Premachandran and attorney Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam told the President to settle the issue of the LTTE prisoners who are being held without charges.
They also told the President to halt the transfer of cases that are currently being heard in the Vavuniya Court to Anuradhapura.
President Sirisena was heard as saying: “Come let us discuss and see how the matter can be solved. The Tamils voted for me, you must remember.”
Sivajilingam replied: “So how do you pay back your gratitude to the people who supported you.”
Sivajilingam told the President that 160 Tamil prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism, Act (PTA) are languishing in prisons without trial.
He also lamented that another three Tamil prisoners are currently on a hunger strike in the Vavuniya Prison and their condition has worsened over the last few days.
The move to transfer the cases of these three prisoners from Vavuniya to Anuradhapura is not justifiable and carried out on racist lines, Sivajilingam further charged.
“You said you are working on national reconciliation and so why can’t you sort out this simple matter of the three prisoners who are dying owing to the hunger strike they have carried out for the last 19 days. If you can’t solve this simple problem, how can you solve bigger problems,” Sivajilingam further said.
The protesters told that they were exhausted with discussions that were held from time to time regarding the prisoner issue and demanded immediate action.
“We will now wait for his response before informing the three prisoners currently on the ‘death fast’ in the Vavuniya Prison. What is needed is action and not discussions,” Sivajilingam told Ceylon Today.
Meanwhile, the President, while addressing students later on said there is nothing like communications and discussions to deal with problems.
“When I speak of discussions the protesters insist on implementations. Many problems could be sorted out through proper communication,” the President told the student audience at the National Tamil Language Day event held at the Hindu College.
President Sirisena was escorted to the venue amidst tight security that had been beefed up since Friday following a major hartal in the peninsula on that day. Organizers of Friday’s hartal had planned a similar protest during the President’s visit yesterday but were forced to have a re-think following a Court order that banned public protests in the area.
However, following yesterday’s protest and related events it was also clear that the court order had been flouted.