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Sunday, 21 July, 2002, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Tamils gather after ban overturned
Stallholders at the conference
Tamils from more than 60 countries were represented

A controversial conference uniting Tamils from around the world has gone ahead in the southern Indian city of Madras despite an earlier attempt by the authorities to prevent it.


If the LTTE was not there, systematic genocide would finish all the Tamils in Sri Lanka

P. Nedumaran,
Confederation leader
The inaugural meeting of the World Tamil Confederation brought together Tamils from more than 60 countries across North America, Europe, South Africa, Asia and Australasia.

The police had earlier denied permission for the gathering, after the government said it was likely to be used as a forum for speeches in favour of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels.

But on Friday, the Madras High Court overturned the ban after being given assurances that no pro-rebel slogans or literature would be permitted.

Tamils constitute one of the world's largest diaspora communities, and number more than 80 million worldwide if those in India and Sri Lanka are included.

Subdued rhetoric

Hundreds of poets and musicians, classical scholars, scientists and doctors crowded the conference hall in the Tamil Nadu state capital for the two-day event.

Leader of the new Confederation, P Nedumaran
Tamil leaders say the Tigers are their true representatives

Security was tight, with an armed police presence, but the atmosphere was generally relaxed as musicians played Tamil music and bookstalls offered some of the riches of Tamil literature.

Conference participants discussed social and economic challenges facing their community and launched a new Tamil welfare bank, anthem and flag.

Although the rhetoric in the speeches was subdued regarding the Tamil Tigers, there was a markedly pro-Tiger mood among delegates.

Speaking on the conference sidelines, the new Confederation's leader, P. Nedumaran, told the BBC that the LTTE was "the only saviour" of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

"If the LTTE was not there, systematic genocide would finish all the Tamils in Sri Lanka," he said.

He said the only possible long-term solution for Sri Lanka was to split the island in two and create a Tamil homeland.

Tamil Nadu clampdown

The meeting comes at a time of fierce controversy over the status of the Tiger rebel movement.

Conference platform
Police had tried to stop the conference

A Sri Lankan government minister, Noordeen Mashoor, who gave a speech on the situation of Sri Lankan Muslims, told the BBC that the authorities in Colombo would definitely lift their ban on the rebels before the start of peace talks, which are expected to begin soon.

But the government of Tamil Nadu is currently cracking down on LTTE sympathisers.

One senior politician, known popularly as Vaiko, is in prison awaiting trial under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, accused of a pro-LTTE speech last month.

And the conference organiser, Mr Nedumaran, is facing prosecution for holding a pro-LTTE meeting in April.

The Tigers have long been banned in India and are widely held responsible for the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi 11 years ago.

But the Indian Government itself has distanced itself from the clampdown.

The national Defence Minister, George Fernandes, recently visited Mr Vaiko in jail, saying the law had been misused in arresting him.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

12 Jul 02 | South Asia
08 Jul 02 | South Asia
20 Jun 02 | South Asia
16 Apr 02 | South Asia
10 Jun 02 | South Asia
07 Jun 02 | South Asia
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