Protesters rally against Sri Lankan military violence, tie up traffic and commuters downtown
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, March 16, 2009 10:29PM EDT
TORONTO - Thousands of members of Toronto's Tamil community formed a massive human chain Monday to protest attacks by the Sri Lankan military on Tamils in that country's bloody civil war.
Protesters lined sidewalks in the city's downtown core before dispersing just after 6 p.m., with many of them waving flags and chanting slogans.
A similar demonstration in January drew about 45,000 people.
Police are monitoring the peaceful demonstration and have reported no problems, though motorists were advised to take alternate routes as Front and York Streets were closed for traffic.
The chain started on Front Street, went up Yonge Street to Bloor Street, and went west across Bloor to University Avenue, where it turned south back to Front.
Toronto is home to approximately 250,000 Tamils, one of the largest populations outside Sri Lanka.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 1997 and by Canada in 2006, have been fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in northern Sri Lanka since 1983. More than 70,000 people have been killed.
Fighting has escalated in recent months, as the military routed the rebels from most of their de facto state in the north and cornered them in a narrow strip of land along the northeastern coast along with tens of thousands of trapped civilians.
The massive protest in Toronto came the same day the European Union appealed to Sri Lankan authorities and Tamil Tiger rebels to agree to an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into a northern "safe zone" where some 170,000 civilians are supposed to be shielded from the fighting.
Also Monday, more than 5,000 Tamils from across Europe demonstrated close to EU headquarters in Brussels, demanding quick action to stop the bloodshed in Sri Lanka.
--With files from The Associated Press.