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Sunday, 14 August 2011

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British riots, a grim reminder

Britain's flaring riots last week have shaken London to the core. The riots, which erupted in London spread like wildfire to other cities in the United Kingdom and seemed unstoppable at one stage as their law enforcement agencies battled desperately to control the unprecedented wave of riots that reached alarming proportions in next to no time.

Within 72 hours, violence and looting took its toll and spread to three other major cities, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool. The London riots came hot on the heels of a bomb blast and a killing spree which stunned the Norwegian capital Oslo.

Be it crime or any other acts of terror, Sri Lanka condemns in the strongest possible terms the unfortunate incidents in Oslo, London and Mumbai recently. These attacks reiterate the need for global unity against crime and terror, irrespective of which part of the world it emanates from.

It was only last month that three bomb blasts rocked India's largest city, Mumbai, killing at least 21 people and injuring over 110 people. The bombings revived dreadful memories in a city that has suffered before, including the massive assault by gunmen that killed 164 people in November 2008.

The 2011 Oslo bombing and Utoeya shooting were two sequential terror attacks against the government, the civilian population and a summer camp in Norway last July. The car bomb explosion in Oslo killed eight people while the second attack at a summer camp in Utoeya claimed the lives of 69 people.

The International Community, at least, at this late stage, must abandon its queer habit of viewing criminal and terror acts in various parts of the world from different angles. The widespread anti-social and criminal behaviour of youth and unemployed people in general has long troubled Britain. Attacks and vandalism by gangs of rabble-rousers are "a blight on the lives of millions," according to a 2010 British government report commissioned in the aftermath of several deaths related to such gangs.

The riots also bring into sharp focus the alienation and resentment of many young people in Britain, where almost one million people between 16 and 24 are officially unemployed, the highest on record since the deep recession of the mid-1980s. The New York Times, in its banner headline, said that the "London riots put the spotlight on troubled, unemployed youth in Britain".

The riots sparked off when protesters gathered outside a north London police station following the shooting of a local man by law enforcement officers. The British police have long had troubled relations with racial and ethnic minorities in the UK. According to Graham Beech, an official at the crime-prevention charity Nacro, UK, the combination of economic despair, racial tension and thuggery has "a devastating effect on communities". It is something that people generally see on their daily walks to work - street drunkenness, vandalism and intimidation.

In this context we re-echo President Mahinda Rajapaksa's forthright comments in his inspiring speech at the UN General Assembly three years ago; in that there can't be two types of terrorism - one for the West and another for this part of the world. There are no good and bad terrorists. Terrorism anywhere in the world is terrorism and should be eradicated likewise.

Although the US Assistant Secretary of State, Robert O'Blake on his last visit to Sri Lanka last May, said that Velupillai Prabhakaran and Osama bin Laden were two of the world's most ruthless terrorists, most countries in the West consider these killings from different viewpoints.

Sri Lanka does not view terrorism in the US or UK from a different perspective. More than any other country, Sri Lanka had suffered untold misery for nearly three decades due to the LTTE's barbaric terror acts. Similarly, the West too, at least after the recent ghastly incidents should cease to view Sri Lanka in a different light. Certain countries in the West which pontificate to us on peace and view terrorism in keeping with their own agendas, should at least now withdraw their war crimes charges against Sri Lanka.

As Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has quite rightly highlighted, the violence and looting raging across London was evidence of how a small group of unruly elements could exploit an isolated incident to cause mayhem. Depending on their success, hundreds if not thousands, could throw their weight behind a destructive campaign.

Similarly, the recent JVP-led protests at the Katunayake Export Processing Zone (KEPZ) could have definitely developed into a frightening situation and blown out of proportion, had the Government failed to take swift remedial action, though the police initially failed in their task, resulting in an unfortunate death.

Some Western diplomats here raised a big hue and cry over the incidents at the KEPZ. A Western diplomat in Colombo even went to the extent of trying to berate Sri Lanka over the incident. But strangely enough his silence was deafening after the severe riots in Britain.

The violence in Britain first erupted last weekend in Tottenham in north London, when outraged protesters demonstrated against the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four who was gunned down in disputed circumstances. According to British press reports, the police from Operation Trident, assigned to investigate gun crime in the black community, stopped the cab he was riding in and shot him dead.

As Defence Secretary Rajapaksa had pointed out at the recent press interview, those who are critical of the police here over the manner in which they tackle violent groups, should compare how the so-called five-star democracy works in the West.

Those who preach to us on human rights violations, the rights of minorities and rehabilitation of terrorists, must practise what they preach. Would those who shed crocodile tears over the terrorists killed in battle in Sri Lanka, treat the minority groups in their countries better than Sri Lanka? The answer would be an emphatic No!

Now that over 1000 have been detained for their alleged involvement in the riots in the UK, it would be interesting to see how the UK handles the post-conflict situation. It is our fervent hope and wish that the British government would take timely action to ensure the safety and security of the minorities living in London and other major cities. Simultaneously, those who are responsible for damaging public and private property should be brought to book.

Those who encourage civil unrest in other parts of the world, and adopt a Jekyll and Hyde attitude should realise the folly of their strategy. It goes without saying that those who foster terrorism either directly or indirectly will have to face the dire consequences of their actions sooner rather than later.

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