Tamil protesters close Toronto highway
Tamil demonstrators protesting the ongoing civil war in Sri Lanka flooded onto a major highway in Toronto, Canada, on Sunday and remained there for several hours, closing the roadway and prompting police to send reinforcements while trying to negotiate an end to the incident.
"Quite frankly, to this point we are not getting a lot of cooperation," Police Chief William Blair told reporters late Sunday. "It is clearly a dangerous situation that they have created. We are amassing sufficient personnel. We are bringing additional people in -- we also know that this could go for some time."
It was not clear what the protesters intended by blocking the Gardiner Expressway, but Blair estimated that thousands of demonstrators from Toronto's Tamil community were taking part in what started as a peaceful demonstration in a nearby park.
"They gave us no indication they were going to do what they have done," Blair said.
Many of the protesters were on an overpass, and he said many children were in the crowd.
"It's an unsafe situation both for the protesters and the police," Blair said.
With Monday morning and the beginning of the business week only a few hours away, motorized traffic on what Blair described as "a very significant arterial road for the city of Toronto" appeared to be completely blocked by the demonstrators.
Police were working to persuade demonstration leaders to end the protest and clear the roadway, Blair said.
"Our response has to be proportionate to the activities of the crowd," he said. "You can't just wade into a crowd like that. They are still citizens of this city and there are children in that crowd, and I'm not going to do anything to worsen the situation."
In Sri Lanka, the government military has been on an offensive to try to finish off the ethnic Tamil insurgency that has been fighting for an independent state in the northeast of the country since 1983.
As many as 70,000 people have been killed since the civil war began, and the Tamil Tigers rebel group has been declared a terrorist organization by the European Union and more than 30 countries, including the United States.
On Sunday, a humanitarian worker in Sri Lanka told CNN that nearly 400 people were killed overnight Saturday by government shelling in what is supposed to be a "no-fire" zone. Most of the roughly 378 dead are civilians, and an additional 1,200 were wounded, the aid worker said.
The government denies the claim, saying it is the Tamil Tiger rebels who have been killing civilians.