COLOMBO: Hundreds of activists protested in the Sri Lankan capital Tuesday against India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi for urging the island to step up post-war reconciliation with ethnic minority Tamils.
The pro-government protesters waved placards that read “Modi don’t be foolish” and shouted anti-Modi slogans outside the Indian High Commission – the de facto embassy – in Colombo over the prime minister’s comments made last month.
The protesters accused Modi, who swept to power with a landslide election win in May, of interfering in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.
The activists, led by the National Freedom Front, a coalition partner in President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government, also targeted the chief minister of India’s southern Tamil Nadu state, Jayalalitha Jayaram.
The protesters burnt a photograph of Jayaram, who has called for Modi to probe the “genocide” that she alleged was committed against Tamils during Sri Lanka’s decades-long separatist war.
Sri Lanka is under international pressure to probe allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the finale of the war between the military and Tamil rebels that ended in 2009.
Rajapakse held talks with Modi after attending his inauguration last month. Modi urged Rajapakse at the talks to devolve political power to Tamils in reconciliation efforts.
There have been tensions between the two countries over Colombo’s treatment of its Tamil minority, which shares close cultural and religious ties with the more than 70 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu state.
Last week, Sri Lanka’s government reacted angrily to Jayaram’s “genocide” remark, which it said reflected her bias against Sri Lanka.
Tamil Nadu, which is separated from Sri Lanka by a narrow strip of sea known as the Palk Strait, had in the 1980s provided safe haven to Tamil guerrillas who were fighting for an independent state carved out of Sri Lanka, the majority of whose population is ethnic Sinhalese.