Thousands attend London funeral of Tamil who torched himself

By Dipankar De Sarkar, IANS,

London : Thousands of Tamils Saturday attended the London funeral of a man who set himself on fire in Geneva last month to protest the Sri Lankan Army’s war against Tamils in his homeland.

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Murugathasan Varnakulasingham, 26, killed himself in front of the United Nations building in Geneva Feb 19 in the latest of a series of self-immolations by Tamils across the world – including an attempted suicide in front of the British prime minister’s office last month.

Tamils from Britain and elsewhere in Europe turned up in large numbers for the funeral, which was held at Northolt, west London, amid tight security.

Attendees, most of whom wore black and carried red roses, were checked for petrol cans after concerns over similar acts of self-immolation.

Organisers said they were expecting up to 20,000 people to turn up by the end of the day.

Police blocked the traffic and authorities closed the local underground train station for crowd safety reasons.

The attendees were to be addressed by a number of British MPs, including Dawn Butler, Virendra Sharma, Stephen Pound and John McDonnell, from a large stage decorated in the red and yellow colours of the Sri Lankan Tamil movement.

Also on the stage was a huge poster saying “Free Eelam” alongside one of Muruganathasan, who left behind a five-page letter expressing his anguish and helpless at the civil war in his homeland.

The letter read: “We Tamils, displaced and all over the world, loudly raised our problems and asked for help before (the) international community in your own language for three decades.

“But nothing happened… So I decided to sacrifice my life… The flames over my body will be a torch to guide you through the liberation path.”

Thaya Idaikkadar, a local Labour councillor and chairman of the British Tamil Councillors and Associates, said: “He did not do this for himself or his family, he did it for his people. He was pushed into it because the media won’t tell people what’s going on.”

However, he added, Murugathasan’s actions could not be condoned. “We do not support any form of suicide – our advice is that no one else should ever do what he did.”