A TAMIL protest in central London calling for a stop to fighting in the Sri Lankan civil war is taking police off the capital's streets, the Met Police Commissioner has said.

Sir Paul Stephenson told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee yesterday the mass protest in Parliament Square is “draining” police resources.

He said: “It does have to be said at this moment in time, policing of that demonstration is a huge drain on resources that should be available to Londoners.

“And it is damaging Met performance and does lead to a lack of policing on the streets of London.”

Many Harrow Tamil residents have attended the protest, which has now been camped on the square for 44 days, and they joined a mass sit-in in the surrounding roads on Monday which caused traffic chaos.

When police eventually tried to move the protesters off the roads, scuffles broke out leading to ten arrests and 25 police officers being injured.

Sir Paul told the committee policing the protest, which shows no sign of stopping, has cost the Met just short of £8m, including nearly £4m in overtime costs.

He said diverting officers to make sure the protest does not cause too much disruption has reduced policing in other areas of the capital.

Chief Superintendent Richard Walton, Borough Commander for Harrow, told residents on Monday some officers were working between 15 and 18 hours straight policing the protest, and said Harrow officers are being taken away from the borough's streets to patrol the demonstration.

He said: “To some extent it leaves Harrow without enough police officers here.”

The protest, which has included a march through central London attended by tens of thousands of Tamils, is calling for international intervention in Sri Lanka.

During the last couple of months, news organisations have turned their attention to the conflict between rebel group the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, where it is said thousands of innocent Tamils are being killed or injured in the crossfire.

The protesters say not enough is being done to help innocent civilians, and they are demanding an immediate ceasefire so their countrymen can escape the conflict zones.

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