By London Evening Standard –
The president of Sri Lanka was forced to cancel a keynote speech in London today as more than 3,000 Tamil protesters staged a flash demonstration at a Jubilee event attended by the Queen.
Police estimated that more than 1,500 pro-Tamil demonstrators turned out on the streets but eye witnesses at Pall Mall said there were closer to 3,000.
She attended the event alone as the Duke of Edinburgh remained in hospital with a bladder infection.
She was joined by more than 70 guests, including Prime Minister David Cameron and leaders from across the association of nations, as they arrived to angry scenes.
A large group gathered outside Marlborough House in central London in opposition to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse’s presence at the meal.
Their chants echoed around the forecourt as guests arrived.
Mr Rajapakse was jeered as he swept through the main gate in a Range Rover. His car did not carry a flag because of security concerns.
The Queen spent a brief moment with Mr Rajapakse and appeared to fleetingly shake hands with him as she met guests at a reception in the Blenheim Saloon inside Marlborough House.
He was seated on the table directly to the Queen’s left with Babli Sharma, wife of the Commonwealth Secretary- General, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba and his wife, and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and his wife.
The 11 tables were named after flowers, with the Queen seated on the Golden Wattle table.
Mr Sharma welcomed the guests, saying: “It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all on this very special day in the history of the Commonwealth.”
The guests were served a Brie and avocado terrine followed by wild sea bass then an apple crumble souffle, apple pie ice cream and caramelised apple.
The meal was accompanied by South African wines.
Heads of state and representatives from Australia, Canada and the African nations were welcomed by Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma.
The Queen wore a floral print silk dress in shades of blue and grey by Stuart Parvin and a blue wool crepe hat to the formal lunch.
She seemed relaxed as she was handed a bouquet of flowers by nine-year-old Aduke Badale, the daughter of a member of the Commonwealth Secretariat staff.
Sri Lankan president Mr Rajapaksa, who has been accused of presiding over human rights abuses after allegations of war crimes by Sri Lankan armed forces, earlier cancelled an address in the City of London amid concerns about the protest.
Today’s protest was the first major Tamil demonstration in London since a series of massive demos across London three years ago.
Then tens of thousands of Tamil protesters caused huge disruption on central London and made several attempts to storm Parliament, costing Scotland Yard more than £12 million in overtime costs.
Police said today they were monitoring the gathering at the corner of St James Street and Pall Mall, close to where the Queen was attending the lunch.
Channel Four’s foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller tweeted: “Tamil protesters are wielding effigies of Rajapakse hanging from a gallows.”
Veno Siba, 22, a student from Ilford, said her parents left Sri Lanka to seek asylum 20 years ago.
She said the president should not be “eating with the Queen” when he is accused of committing war crimes.
She said: “We came here to stand and protest that he’s coming to London. How can the Queen not have seen what he’s done?
“It’s affected many people in many ways because they’ve lost family members or had people go there on holiday and not return.”
Mr Rajapaksa was due to give a keynote speech at a special Diamond Jubilee meeting of the Commonwealth Economic Forum on Wednesday morning, but the event’s organisers, the Commonwealth Business Council, stated on its website: “After careful consideration, the morning sessions of the Forum … will not take place.”
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said it had agreed to guarantee the president’s security but the CBC had “decided it was not in their interest to stage the event” because of the extent of the policing required and the likely disruption to the City of London.
Fred Carver, campaign director of the Sri Lanka Campaign, welcomed the news, calling it a “testament” to the campaign.
The protest was also aimed at the Hilton hotel on Park Lane where the president is staying.
There were huge protests in 2009 when the 26-year war in Sri Lanka, which claimed an estimated 70,000 lives, ended with government forces defeating the Tamil resistance.
The protests come after a Sri Lankan man, who was left scarred and suicidal after two weeks of torture, accused the British government of forcibly deporting asylum seekers who are then tortured in Sri Lanka.
The victim told the Guardian newspaper he was tortured over the space of 17 days after being deported from the UK last year.
His torturers accused him of passing on to British officials information about previous beatings at the hands of state officials and other human rights abuses to ruin diplomatic relations between the two countries.