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Monday, 9 September, 2002, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Big pro-peace rally in Sri Lanka
Crowds at a government-led demonstration in Colombo, Sri Lanka expressing solidarity with moves to enter into peace talks with Tamil Tigers
Huge crowds gather in Colombo to support peace talks
Thousands of government supporters and trade union members have taken part in a rally in Colombo in support of the forthcoming peace talks with Tamil rebels.

The show of strength, organised by the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, comes in advance of talks with the Tamil Tigers due to be held in Thailand next week.

The supporters were brought into the capital by the state-run bus company, which cancelled many of its normal routes and some pro-government unions required their members to attend.

Many in the crowd were wearing green baseball hats, the party colours of the ruling United National Party.

Traffic jams

Tamil Tiger soldier
The Tamil Tigers: To have talks in Thailand
Schools in the capital closed early to allow children to return home before traffic jams blocked the roads.

Brass bands played at the head of different processions entering the city with people dancing on the streets shouting: "we want peace."

The organiser of the event, Minister of Power and Energy, Karu Jayasuriya, said the turnout showed there was a thirst for peace and unity in the south of the island.


The aim of this rally is to tell the people in Sri Lanka and all over the world that the majority of Sri Lankans are for peace

Senarath Kapukotuwa, general secretary of the UNP

The government also suggested the size of the rally was an indication of the sense of optimism in the country.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe told the BBC the Tamil Tigers had already shown signs of transforming into a political organisation, which indicated they were serious about peace.

The prime minister's remarks come in response to comments by a senior rebel leader who praised his courage and strength of will in moving towards negotiations.

Sri Lankan president
President Kumaratunga: Opposes the peace-talks
But the BBC's Frances Harrison in Colombo says that despite all the progress that has been made in recent months, there is a minority which fears the government is being tricked by the Tamil Tigers and is in danger of dividing the country.

These people are being championed by President Kumaratunga and opposition parties and during the processions some government supporters were calling for the president's resignation.

However, the mood was mostly one of celebration, with large numbers of Tamil plantation workers taking part alongside members of the majority Sinhala community.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Adam Mynott
"Now the Tamil Tigers are wearing civilian dress"

Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

05 Sep 02 | South Asia
06 Sep 02 | South Asia
05 Sep 02 | Business
03 Sep 02 | South Asia
01 Sep 02 | South Asia
30 Aug 02 | South Asia
07 Aug 02 | Crossing Continents
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