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Rajapaksa forced to abandon speech after Tamils protest at diamond jubilee lunch

LONDON, June 7 : More than 1,000 Tamil protesters demonstrated outside a diamond jubilee lunch for the Queen in protest over the presence of the president of Sri Lanka as he was forced to abandon a keynote speech in the City of London on Wednesday.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, accused of presiding over human rights abuses after allegations of war crimes by Sri Lankan armed forces, was a guest, along with David Cameron, at the lunch in London hosted by the Commonwealth secretary general, Kamalesh Sharma.

Demonstrators descended on Marlborough House, Pall Mall, with some wielding hanged effigies of the president. Their chants echoed around the forecourt as guests arrived. Police estimated there were 1,200 protesters, though the Tamils said there were more.

The protests are over alleged war crimes and human rights abuses. One victim told the Guardian that he was left scarred and suicidal by torture, and accused the British government of forcibly deporting asylum seekers who are then tortured in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan said he was tortured over 17 days after being deported from the UK last year, and accused by his torturers of trying to ruin diplomatic relations with Britain by passing on allegations of other human rights abuses by state officials.

Rajapaksa was jeered as he swept through the main gates of Marlborough House in a Range Rover, which did not carry a flag because of security concerns.

Fred Carver, campaign director of the Sri Lanka Campaign, welcomed the news, calling it a testament to the movement.

"It is absolutely not appropriate for President Rajapaksa to be feted by the Queen at the behest of the Commonwealth secretary general," he said.

"It is likely Assad learned some lessons from the way the international community tolerated civilian casualties in Sri Lanka. What lessons will Assad learn from seeing how quickly the international community rehabilitates those responsible?"

Sen Kandiah, founder of the British Tamil Forum, said: "Common sense has prevailed. There is now enough evidence that allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka lead directly to the president himself. That is why British government officials are reluctant to meet him. He is not welcome here."

The coalition is coming under increasing pressure to revisit a policy that suggests it is safe to return Tamils to Sri Lanka. Last week the high court halted the deportation of 40 people to the island at the last minute, citing human rights concerns.

Protests were also staged outside the British deputy high commission in Chennai, India over the Sri Lankan president's invitation to the jubilee celebrations.