Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday expressed regret that his scheduled lecture at the Oxford Union, the prestigious debating society of the Oxford University, was cancelled.
On an invitation from the Union, Rajapaksa had traveled to the UK and was scheduled to speak at the Union on Thursday. The Union however cancelled the event citing reasons of security. "Due to security concerns surrounding Mr Rajapaksa’s visit which have recently been brought to our attention by the police, the Union has regretfully found that the talk is no longer practicable and has had to cancel his address," the Union said in a statement.
"I am very sorry this had to be cancelled, but I will continue to seek venues in Britain and elsewhere where I can talk about my future vision for Sri Lanka," Rajapaksa’s office quoted him as saying.
The cancellation was being blamed on the expected large-scale protests by Tamil groups demanding Rajapaksa’s arrest on alleged war crime charges and an international investigation into the allegations. Hundreds of protesters had gathered at the Heathrow airport when Rajapaksa arrived in London.
"This (cancellation) is a decision that has been made unilaterally by the Oxford Union, reportedly as a result of pressure applied by pro-LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) activists," Rajapaksa’s secretary, Lalith Weeratunga said.
Rajapaksa’s office termed the cancellation as "an attack against the freedom of speech."
In the 2010 press freedom index compiled by Reporters without Borders, Sri Lanka ranks 158th out of the 178 countries surveyed.