Saturday, August 10, 2013

Suu Kyi urges progress as thousands mark Myanmar uprising

Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi urged further progress on democratic reforms in a speech to thousands on Thursday marking the anniversary of a huge popular uprising in 1988, the largest ever such commemoration.

Some 5,000 people crammed into a convention centre and thousands more watched large television screens outside to witness a landmark ceremony recalling the mass student protests 25 years ago that were brutally crushed by the then-junta.

The event, attended by members of the opposition and ruling parties, diplomats and Buddhist monks, comes amid sweeping changes in Myanmar since the end of outright military dictatorship two years ago.

"Time doesn't wait for us. We have to move forward," opposition leader Suu Kyi told the crowd, listing the tasks still to be completed in the fast-changing nation, including country-wide peace, constitutional reform and rule of law.

"On this 8888 (as the anniversary is known) revolution silver jubilee day, I would like to urge everyone to continue working bravely and in unity for what we have to do for the future of our country," she said, adding that it was a "good sign" that so many people had gathered together to mark the event.

On August 8, 1988 widespread student-led demonstrations against Myanmar's military rulers were brutally suppressed in an army assault in Yangon. But they marked the start of a huge popular uprising against the junta.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets across the country calling for democracy, in protests that came to a brutal end the following month with an army crackdown that killed more than 3,000.

Suu Kyi, who had been living in London but returned to Yangon in 1988 to nurse her sick mother, was quick to take a leading role in the pro-democracy movement, delivering speeches to the masses at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda.

The Nobel laureate, who spent much of the following two decades under house arrest until she was freed just after controversial elections in 2010, is now an MP as part of sweeping reforms under a new quasi-civilian government that came to power in 2011.

Other changes that have seen the country lauded by the international community have included freeing hundreds of political prisoners -- many of whom were jailed for their roles in the 1988 rallies -- and ceasefires with major ethnic rebel groups.

Ko Ko Gyi, a key figure in the 1988 protests and a leader of the 88 Generation activist group, said campaigns to push Myanmar further on the path to democracy should maintain "the spirit" of the student rallies.

"We cannot erase history. The situation of the country today is a result of the 1988 people's movement. Although we have not reached the situation we want, we are at the beginning of the road," he told AFP.

Earlier, hundreds of people watched some 50 campaigners march through downtown Yangon in an unauthorised procession that irked local law enforcers.

Marchers refused to halt when the head of police in the area asked them to stop. Police allowed them to continue, standing aside but taking pictures of those involved.

"I don't think we need to get permission... we do not want to protest, we just want to express our respect. We are just walking," said Tun Tun Oo, a 49-year-old businessman who was a student protester in 1988.

Activists also laid wreaths at Sule Pagoda in the centre of Yangon, which was at the heart of the August 8 crackdown.

Win Min, a former student protester, said the scene in the area 25 years ago was "the worst and most unforgettable 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 told AFP. - Channel News Asia

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