Local dissidents mark the 20th anniversary of “8-8-88” bloody uprising
Fearful residents mark Myanmar‘s “8-8-88” uprising
Fri Aug 8, 2008 4:29am EDT
Myanmar nationals living in Thailand and members of human rights groups chant anti-junta slogans and wave placards calling for the release of democracy icon and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration outside the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok August 8, 2008.
By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON (Reuters) – Cowed and afraid, people in Myanmar marked exactly 20 years on Friday since the army crushed an “8-8-88” democracy uprising with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives, although the only protests were outside the country.
After last year’s widespread fuel-price rallies, the generals in charge of the former Burma were taking no chances, posting armed police and pro-government thugs at strategic sites, such as Yangon’s gilded Shwedagon pagoda.
Most of the leaders of the 1988 uprising, the biggest challenge to army rule dating back to 1962, have been behind bars since the start of the fuel-price demonstrations last August. They are just a few of an estimated 1,100 political prisoners.
“We are not planning any official ceremony, although some people might choose to do something in private,” Nyan Win, a spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy, said.
Others concurred, citing the daily struggle to survive in one of Asia’s poorest nations and a sense of the futility of protest that has lingered since 1988 and last year’s crackdown, in which at least 31 people were killed.
“Nobody is happy with the present situation, but most people know from experience that protests will not change their lives,” English teacher Hla Maung told Reuters.
Outside the pariah Southeast Asian nation, however, human rights groups and activists who fled the 1988 bloodshed staged demonstrations outside Myanmar and Chinese embassies.
China is being targeted on what is also the opening day of the Beijing Olympics because of its commercial and diplomatic ties to the generals, gate-keepers of Myanmar’s plentiful reserves of natural gas and other resources.
In Bangkok and Manila, dozens of protesters chanted anti-junta slogans, burnt Myanmar flags and waved placards calling for the release of democracy icon and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Yangon.
“REMEMBER THE ATROCITIES”
August 8, 1988 — 8-8-88 — was chosen as the focus of the uprising because of its numerologically auspicious connotations for most Burmese. It was also said to be a powerful foil to then military supremo Ne Win, whose lucky number was nine.
Now, it is remembered for something very different.
“As the world celebrates the opening of the Beijing Olympics, people should pause to remember the atrocities in Burma 20 years ago,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“This anniversary is testament to the Burmese people’s enduring demand for freedom and to the world’s failure to end repressive military rule. And China, more than any other country, has enabled the survival of the brutal Burmese regime,” she said.
Meeting Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein in Beijing ahead of the Games, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said he hoped Myanmar could sort out its problems “through democratic negotiation”, the official Xinhua news agency said.
“China will continue to follow a good-neighborly policy towards Myanmar, and work with the international community to help Myanmar overcome difficulties,” Xinhua quoted Wen as saying.
On Thursday, U.S. President George W. Bush used a visit to neighboring Thailand, home to more than 100,000 Myanmar refugees and more than a million migrant workers, to highlight the 1988 bloodshed and call yet again for Suu Kyi’s release.
“The American people care deeply about the people of Burma and dream for the day the people will be free,” he told dissidents and former political prisoners at an hour-long lunch.
(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by David Fogarty)
Burma quiet on rally anniversary
Chinese embassies were the target of some of Friday’s protests
The military authorities in Burma have imposed tight security in the main city, Rangoon, on the 20th anniversary of a major uprising.
Police and pro-government militias are stationed at strategic points in the city, including Buddhist monasteries.
Activists outside Burma are marking the anniversary with demonstrations.
The 1988 protests drew hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, but ended with a violent clampdown and the deaths of at least 3,000 civilians.
The date 8 August 1988 was significant for the superstitious Burmese, and marked the start of six weeks of rallies against military rule.
Until the 8/8/88 protests, Aung San Suu Kyi was only known as the daughter of liberation hero Aung San, but her speech to the assembled protesters during the rallies propelled her to the centre of the pro-democracy movement.
Nyan Win, a spokesman for her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, told AFP news agency that the anniversary marked “an important historical turning point”.
The only sign of the anniversary inside the country was the heavy military presence, with riot police posted at busy intersections, the former campus of Rangoon University and the famous Shwedagon Pagoda.
Additional barriers and a fire engine were also placed outside Aung San Suu Kyi’s home.
Elsewhere in Asia, though, human rights groups and activists who fled in the aftermath of the 1988 protests held demonstrations outside Burmese embassies.
They also protested outside the Chinese embassy in Bangkok.
“We are here because China is the main supporter of the military regime,” Kyaw Lin Oo, a Burmese activist, told reporters.
“We want the Chinese government to understand the actual cost of their support to the people inside of Burma,” he added.
“As the world celebrates the opening of the Beijing Olympics, people should pause to remember the atrocities in Burma 20 years ago,” added Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
In Rangoon, dissident Min Aung told the Associated Press: “I’ve totally lost hope that change will come through mass protests.
“It’s difficult to organise protests now because most of the leaders are in jail or in hiding.”