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  • Tamils with images of family members who vanished during the Sri Lanka civil war, at a protest in the north in Jaffna, Aug. 2013.

    Tamils with images of family members who vanished during the Sri Lanka civil war, at a protest in the north in Jaffna, Aug. 2013. | Photo: Reuters

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The U.N. estimates 40,000 Tamils were killed, but rights advocates say the number could be as high as 150,000. 

Hundreds of Tamils in Sri Lanka gathered throughout the country Thursday to commemorate the deadly, macabre end of the country’s 26-year civil war, many who recognize May 18 as Tamil Genocide Day.

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Students and staff marked the day at Jaffna University in the city of Jaffna, while Tamils in Mannar lit candles and laid flowers in memory of the thousands killed. In Sampur, a ceremony was held by members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who on that day eight years ago, saw their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, killed by Sri Lankan military troops.

The city of Mullivaikkal, the location of the final battle between the troops and the LTTE, also saw vigils commemorating the killings. In attendance was Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran from the country’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, who called for a three-minute silence to remember those who died during the civil war, and also called on diaspora Tamils to observe the commemoration.

The Tamil Peoples' Council, the Tamil National Peoples' Front and Tamil National Alliance parliamentarians also gathered in Mullivaikkal.

On Wednesday, a court order from the District Judge and Magistrate of Mullaitivu attempted to place a ban on ceremonies commemorating the events of May 18, on the grounds that they may adversely affect "the country's integrity, national security and the peace of the nation," reported The Tamil Guardian.

The International Truth and Justice Project, a transitional justice group in the country, condemned the attempted ban.

While U.N. figures posit that 40,000 Tamils were killed eight years ago in the battle that drew the civil war to a close, many advocates say the number was closer to around 150,000.

The conflict began in 1983 when the LTTE launched an insurgency against the country’s majority Sinhalese population, which many Tamils view as a military occupation of Tamil land.

As in many parts of the world, Britain sowed the seeds for the current majoritarian Sinhala ideology, during its colonial rule of the island in the mid-20th century. The British also trained Lankan security forces prior to and during the course of the civil war.

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