Heavy police presence as Burma marks independence day
The military junta in Burma — also known as Myanmar — deployed riot police at potential flashpoints in the capital Rangoon on Friday as the country marked the 60th anniversary of its independence from Britain.
One unnamed government official said local authorities had also been ordered to round up gangs of thugs, in case pro-democracy activists tried to use the anniversary to demonstrate.
Last September, the military brutally crushed widespread pro-democracy rallies, in which at least 31 people were killed, according to UN human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
Burma's military government has said 10 people were killed when troops opened fire on crowds of peaceful protesters Sept. 26-27. Diplomats and dissidents say the death toll was much higher.
Friday was marked by opposition calls for the freeing of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners as the military rulers urged national discipline.
"The essential first step toward building a democratic state and achieving national reconciliation is the process of political dialogue," said a statement by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy at its party headquarters.
The party called for the immediate release of all political prisoners, and monks who "peacefully demonstrated their beliefs and wishes" in last year's pro-democracy protests.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.
About 300 party members, diplomats and activists attended an NLD gathering as plainclothes officers videotaped their arrival and departure from across the street.
Two NLD youth members were arrested on the eve of the holiday, bringing the total of jailed NLD members to 97, said party spokesman Nyan Win.
There were no official festivities to mark the anniversary. Burma's struggle to gain independence from Britain in 1948 was led by Suu Kyi's father, Gen. Aung San, who is regarded as a national hero.
Burma's junta chief Than Shwe called for the country to build what he called a "discipline-flourishing democratic state."
In a message carried in Burma's three state-run newspapers and read aloud by an official at an annual flag-raising ceremony, Shwe said the country's eventual constitution was being drafted according to the "fundamental principles" of a constitutional convention. These recommend that the military maintains a prominent role in politics and bar Suu Kyi from holding elected office.
After gaining independence from Britain, Burma experimented with democracy until 1962, when the military seized power.
The current junta emerged in 1988 after violently suppressing mass pro-democracy protests. It held a general election in 1990, but refused to recognize the results after a landslide victory by Suu Kyi's party.
With files from the Associated Press