World

Security tight for 20th anniversary of Burma protests

Activists around the world planned to mark the 20th anniversary of one of the largest Burmese uprisings Friday with protests, but the only sign inside the country was beefed up security.

Activists around the world planned to mark the 20th anniversary of one of the largest Burmese uprisings Friday with protests, but the only sign inside the country was beefed up security.

No protests were immediately reported Friday in Burma, also known as Myanmar, to mark the Aug. 8, 1988, demonstrations in which a million people took to the streets of Rangoon after the government suddenly demonetized its currency.

The protests brought down longtime dictator Ne Win, but a new group of generals replaced him and then brutally suppressed the protests. About 3,000 people, including many students and Buddhist monks, died.

In Rangoon on Friday, the only sign of the anniversary was tightened security. Hundreds of riot police were posted at busy intersections, while security personnel watched over landmarks and other previous flashpoints, such as the famed Shwedagon pagoda.

Extra barriers were also placed outside the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained pro-democracy leader.

'China can help our democratization process'

Around Asia, activists planned to mark the anniversary with demonstrations outside the embassies of Burma and key ally China.

About 100 gathered outside the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok, chanting "Free Burma, Free Aung San Suu Kyi," and throwing three red airplanes over the wall that said "We will never forget. We will never give up. 1988."

"We are here because China is the main supporter of the military regime," said Kyaw Lin Oo, a Burmese activist living in Thailand who was among 30 protesters at the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok. He later went to join protests at the Burmese Embassy.

"We want the Chinese government to understand the actual cost of their support to the people inside of Burma," he said. "China can help our democratization process by putting pressure on the military regime."

In Manila, protesters held up mock Olympic torches as they staged a rally outside the Thai Embassy, urging the neighbouring country to impose sanctions on Burma.

The Burmese anniversary coincided with the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing.

"As the world celebrates the opening of the Beijing Olympics, people should pause to remember the atrocities in Burma 20 years ago," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"This anniversary is testament to the Burmese people's enduring demand for freedom and to the world's failure to end repressive military rule."

The 1988 protests propelled Suu Kyi, daughter of Burma's independence hero Aung San, to found her National League for Democracy party to challenge army rule. When elections took place in 1990, though, the military refused to recognize her party's landslide victory.

Nobel winner among those behind bars

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has spent more than 12 of the past 19 years under house arrest.

Many other pro-democracy leaders are also behind bars after last year's deadly demonstrations. At least 31 people were killed and thousands more detained when the military regime cracked down on peaceful pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks and students.

"I've totally lost hope that change will come through mass protests," said Min Aung, a dissident in Rangoon who marched in 1988 and again in demonstrations last year. "It's difficult to organize protests now because most of the leaders are in jail or in hiding."

With files from the Associated Press