Friday, August 09, 2013

Myanmar marks 1988 pro-democracy uprising anniversary

Public commemorations have taken place in Myanmar to mark the 25th anniversary of the uprisings which launched the country's pro-democracy movement.

It was the first time the anniversary has been openly commemorated in Rangoon, also known as Yangon.

Hundreds of thousands took part in the protests, which began on 8 August 1988.

But six weeks later at least 3,000 protesters were dead, thousands more were jailed and the military was firmly back in control.

During the 1988 protests, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as the leader of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar also known as Burma.

Ms Suu Kyi, who is now the opposition leader, gave a speech as part of the commemorations.

She arrived to applause and on taking the stage told the audience that in 1988 they had "wanted to build a democratic nation - and this purpose is still not changed and will never be changed".

Paying tribute to the young students who led the demonstrations, she said it was time for Burma to move on.

"Whatever we do we must not take grudges against each other. We will have to heal the wounds the country suffered by showing love and compassion."

'Tacit approval'

Photo exhibitions and performances in mock prison cells were organised to depict events during the uprising and the crackdown that followed.

On Thursday, a small group of activists marched through Rangoon and laid wreaths to honour those who died in the protests, ignoring police orders that they stop.

The marchers did not have official permission to demonstrate in the streets, but police allowed them to continue, taking pictures of those involved, AFP news agency reported.

Win Min, a former student protestor, told AFP that the crackdown was "the worst and most unforgettable [scene] of my life".

"We want to show our sorrow for the dead today and to show them we are moving forward to the goal of democracy... we promised them we would continue," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi at the public commemorationsA ceremony attended by several thousand people, including political leaders, was held at a convention centre in Rangoon.

The current reformist government has tacitly approved this memorial, even though some of the former generals serving in it are implicated in the violence, the BBC's Jonathan Head reports from Rangoon.

A nominally civilian government took power in Myanmar after elections in November 2010 that ended military rule.

The new administration, led by President Thein Sein, has introduced a series of political and economic reforms, including the release of many political prisoners and the easing of media censorship.

Most sanctions against Myanmar have now been relaxed in response to the changes.

Commenting on the anniversary, UK foreign office minister Hugo Swire said: "This anniversary is a chance to remember all those who have struggled for greater democracy in Myanmar, in particular the many who lost their lives in 1988 or spent years in prison because of their beliefs." - British Broadcasting Corporation

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