Canadian politicians resume campaign trips after TV debates

11:55, April 16, 2011      

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Canada's leaders of major parties resumed their campaign trips Thursday following two televised debates in Ottawa over the past two days.

Canadian Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper was put on the defensive Thursday after media reported that one of his party's candidates for parliament had hosted a televised tribute to the Tamil Tigers, an organization banned in Canada as a terrorist group.

The Tamil Tigers in 2009 lost a civil war in Sri Lanka after fighting for years for an independent Tamil state on the island.

Harper told reporters his Conservative Party holds "a strong position against the Tamil Tigers." His government banned the Tamil Tigers in 2006, despite days of protests by Tamil immigrants in Ottawa, Canada's capital, and Toronto, the country's largest city.

Their aid agency, the World Tamil Movement, was suppressed in 2008.

Still, federal police and security agencies claim the Tamil Tigers raise money in Canada and smuggling rings bring wanted Tamil terrorists to Canada.

The controversy arose Thursday morning after the daily Globe and Mail reported that Conservative candidate Gavan Paranchothy, a broadcaster, had hosted a pro-Tamil Tiger television show last November.

Paranchothy, who traveled with Harper to South Asia in 2009, is running for the House of Commons in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, which has a large Tamil population.

"Our position on the Tamil Tigers has been strong and unequivocal," Harper told reporters at a press conference near Quebec City in French-speaking Quebec province. "This is the party that listed the Tamil Tigers (as a terrorist group); previous governments have refused to do so, and our position on that is not going to change."

Paranchothy had hosted a television special to celebrate Tamil Tigers' Heroes Day, an annual commemoration of Tamils who were killed in the Sri Lankan civil war.

According to the Globe and Mail, Parachothy referred to the militants as "strong and faithful people who stood guard for the Tamils, fought for freedom and peace."

The show was broadcast on Tamil Vision International satellite TV and on a multi-cultural radio station in Canada. No charges were laid in connection with the broadcast then.

In another interview, Parachothy accused the Sri Lankan government of genocide. "Sri Lanka is carrying out a systematic genocide of innocent Tamils who are seeking shelter under trees. They are being lured into so-called safe zones which are then being bombed by Sri Lankan forces," Paranchothy told The Tamil Eelam News Services last year.

He won the Conservative nomination for Scarborough in March.

Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Harper, said Paranchothy "was asked, and confirmed with the Conservative Party, that he in no way, shape or form was a sympathizer or supporter of the Tamil Tigers" before he was nominated. "If that had been the case ... he would not have been a candidate," Soudas said.

Meanwhile, Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff toured rural and suburban areas in the Ottawa area, where his party hopes to win two parliamentary seats which were, until recent elections, considered safe for the Liberals.

One seat, in the Quebec town of Gatineau, was lost to the separatist Bloc Quebecois five years ago. The other, in farm country just east of Ottawa, fell to Harper's Conservatives in 2006.

In the village of St. Isadore, an outdoor rally for Ignatieff was disrupted by Conservative activists.

In Montreal, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton became angry when reporters suggested he could not be elected prime minister in this election. The NDP has never been placed first or second in any Canadian federal election, although it has won some elections in Canadian provinces.

"People who share that view, you know, it's a good thing they don't coach our Olympic athletes. They'd say, 'You know, you've got absolutely no chance of winning here, so I advise you for the next couple of weeks to just kind of tread water,'" Layton said.

"I used to swim for the Quebec swimming team. I can tell you: our coach never told us that. He always told us 'Go for the gold,' and that's what we're doing. The defeatists can live in their life of defeatism."

Latest polls show Harper's Conservatives maintain an eight-point lead over Ignatieff and the Liberals -- 38.9 percent compared to 31.1 per cent. The NDP are at 18.3 percent, having gained slightly after this week's televised debates.

Harper's Conservative government was defeated on March 25 by the opposition parties' non-confidence move, which found the government in contempt of parliament.

The parliament was dissolved the following day and Canada's 41st federal election, the fourth in the past seven years, has been slated for May 2 with 308 seats up for grabs in the House of Commons.

Source: Xinhua

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