Tamil Nadu gripped by anti-Lanka tension

Ranil told to leave Chennai fast
By Our Special Correspondent

Chennai/New Delhi – The Tamil Nadu state government issued shoot-on-sight orders as the state was gripped with tension after anti-Police rioting sparked off by a lawyers’ protest on Thursday.

It started on Tuesday. Lawyers all over Tamil Nadu have been on strike in solidarity with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but ostensibly asking for a ceasefire in the Wanni where thousands of civilians were trapped in fighting between government forces and the LTTE.

Yesterday, Sri Lanka's Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe arrived in Chennai enroute to Colombo after meeting Acting Prime Minister Pranab Mukherjee and BJP leader L.K. Advani.
At Chennai airport, Mr. Wickremesinghe was asked by security personnel to stay in a special heavily-guarded room and not to venture out. Police sniffer dogs were everywhere.

The Sri Lankan leader was asked to take the first available flight out of Chennai. Although he was booked on a Jet Airways flight, he boarded the first available flight, a SriLankan Airlines flight, and returned to Colombo last morning.

Speaking on the telephone to The Sunday Times, Mr. Wickremesinghe said he noticed there was tension all around. He said that during his talks with Indian leaders in New Delhi, he sensed they were "worried" about the developments in Tamil Nadu.

District courts have been closed and the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court is also not working. On Tuesday, Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, otherwise a marginal figure in Tamil Nadu politics, came to court to appear in a case being heard that day.

Lawyers, enraged that Swami was trying to break their strike, hurled rotten eggs at Swamy and tried to assault him in full view of the judges, although the complexion later being given to the incident was that it occurred because of Swamy's opposition to the LTTE.

The lawyers also claimed that the Indian politician made derogatory remarks about the castes of those involved in the pro-LTTE demos. The lawyer responsible for the assault was arrested and this angered lawyers so much that when a police party came to make the arrest on Thursday, they set off protests including setting fire to public transport vehicles.

In the ensuing stone throwing by lawyers and police, a judge was injured. Although the LTTE was in the background of the protests, political parties were quick to seize the issue and disrupted proceedings in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.

Meanwhile courts continue to be closed. Political observers say that for days, lawyers and their associations have been boycotting courts and leading protest demonstrations demanding that the Sri Lankan government announce a ceasefire and halt operations against the LTTE. However, they say the agenda behind the lawyers' agitation was clearly political; the Sri Lankan issue was of no direct concern to the legal fraternity.

Meanwhile, another ominous event lurks in the background. The Madras High Court will hear on February 26 an advance bail petition filed by movie director Seeman for allegedly exhorting people to resort to armed rebellion in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in support of a separate homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka.

While a police team from Puducherry is yet to arrest the director despite his presence there since Tuesday, fresh cases have been filed in police stations in the state on similar charges against Mr. Seeman, who has been arrested twice already on the same charges.

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