Traffic returns to Wellington Street as Tamil protest continues
Wellington Street was re-opened to vehicle traffic in downtown Ottawa Thursday afternoon after hundreds of Tamil protesters moved to the sidewalks on the third day of their rally near Parliament Hill.
The group left the road itself on their own volition in response to frustrated drivers and commuters, according to CTV Ottawa's Vanessa Lee.
Wellington had been closed in both directions between Elgin and O'Connor streets. Metcalfe Street was also re-opened at Queen Street after a brief closure.
Citing their democratic rights, the crowd showed few signs of relenting in their demand for the Canadian government to promote a ceasefire in Sri Lanka's bloody civil war. Tensions ran high with police after a dump truck removed many of the protesters' belongings, including tents, banners, and food.
"My friends and family are bombed, shelled, murdered, killed, raped," said one participant.
At least four protesters are also engaged in a hunger strike.
Police officers have positioned themselves around the perimeter of the protest to prevent further road closures.
"It's a balance. All groups have a right to demonstrate as long as they stay within the laws of the land and stay peaceful," said Ottawa Police Const. Const. J.P. Vincelette.
"This is the case and our role is to ensure their safety and the public's safety at the same time."
Westbound OC Transpo and STO buses are currently being detoured to Albert Street, while eastbound routes are being detoured to Slater Street.
A similar protest caused traffic snarls along Wellington and Elgin streets near Parliament Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday -- leaving many commuters frustrated.
"While I'm sympathetic, I really resent them taking over our streets like this, anyone taking over our streets," said one Ottawa resident.
"MPs are out of town for the next two weeks, so I guess it's a waste of time right now for them," said another.
Tamil activists want the Canadian government to intervene in what they call the Sri Lankan government's genocide against the Tamil people in the country's northern and eastern regions.
"My uncle was killed during the air force bombing by Sri Lankan people, and he just had a month-old baby," said Genit Jeyakanthan, a Tamil-Canadian.
"We spoke with my aunt after and she was crying saying how they have nothing left."
"Right now the emotions of a lot of the Tamil-Canadians here in Canada are running on high . . . this is the first time it's actually got to the point where we've disobeyed law," Tamil youth activist Sahab Jesuthasan told CTV Ottawa during an earlier rally on Parliament Hill.
"If the Tamils get eradicated in Sri Lanka, we won't have a homeland or culture to call our own," he said.
The United Nations estimates up to 190,000 people are trapped in the war zone, with dozens dying every day.
Jesuthasan says his group wants the Canadian government to send a representative to Sri Lanka to address the issue.
"We want Canada . . . to be the forefront to call the ceasefire. We want Canada to also place economic sanctions on Sri Lanka and also to extradite the Sri Lanka military from the Tamil homeland and give Tamils the right to self-determination."
"We will continue to be here protesting until the government takes some sort of action, or until we're forced to leave."
The rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have faced decades of marginalization by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
Government forces in Sri Lanka have been saying for months they are in a final push to defeat the rebels and end the war after a string of major victories in which the rebel administrative capital and main bases were captured.
With a report from CTV Ottawa's Vanessa Lee and files from The Associated Press