Thursday, February 22, 2007
RARE PROTEST IN RANGOON
Activists took to the streets of Rangoon for what some say is the first time in nine years calling for better living conditions, free speech, and economic justice. Several have been arrested including a reporter from the Kyodo News Service and a woman from Nippon TV.
The protestors chanted slogans and waved placards for about half an hour, before dispersing.
Anti-government rallies are rare in Burma. The authorities rapidly suppress any show of public protest, fearing a wider outbreak of unrest. A nationwide pro-democracy uprising took place in 1988, forcing the then ruling dictator Gen Ne Win to step down.
The Campaign for Human Rights and Democracy in Burma declares, "Burma is ruled by one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world; a dictatorship charged by the United Nations with a “crime against humanity” for its systematic abuses of human rights, and condemned internationally for refusing to transfer power to the legally elected Government of the country – the party led by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi."
The following report is from The Democratic Voice of Burma.
Protesters march in Rangoon
Feb 22, 2007 (DVB)—A group of protestors staged a rare demonstration in downtown Rangoon today, shouting slogans and waving banners calling for better living conditions in Burma.
About 30 people gathered outside the Theingyi market at 3:30pm, holding placards calling for 24 hour electricity and an end to high inflation and military oppression.
The demonstrators, led by a group calling themselves the Myanmar Development Committee, were soon joined by onlookers causing the crowd’s numbers to swell to about 50. The group then marched toward the historic Sule pagoda, chanting a list of demands.
“I asked for a placard from those young people who were doing the demonstration and I joined them,” one bystander told DVB.
The group also handed out a statement detailing the poor economic and social conditions in the country, and calling on head of the State Peace and Development Council senior general Than Shwe to address the problems.
“Young women have been forced into prostitution. Elderly people have been forced to beg. Corruption among civil servants is on the rise,” the statement said.
Another woman who joined the protest said bystanders were encouraged to take part.
“As for me, I am a Burmese housewife who can’t take the heavy strain of inflation any more so I grabbed a poster from one of them and joined in,” she said.
Initially traffic police and local officials did little to stop the rare protest. But after half an hour armed riot police surrounded the group, pointing automatic weapons at them and ordering them to disperse.
But witnesses said the demonstrators continued to stand their ground until two men—later identified as Ko Htin Kyaw and National League for Democracy member Ko Myint Shwe—were handcuffed and led away.
Three journalists covering the event were escorted to Rangoon City Hall by officials. Eyewitnesses said Ma Sint Sint Aung from Japan’s Nippon television network, Myat Thura from Kyodo News and high-profile reporter May Thingyan Hein from local news journal Myanma Dana had been taking photos of the demonstration before they were detained.
According to Rangoon residents, about seven members of Burma’s Foreign Correspondents Club are maintaining a vigil outside the building. One member of the group confirmed the three reporters were still in custody.
“We heard they’ve been transferred to the Special Police Branch at Aung Thabye police station,” the FCC member said.