Burmese Troops Gun Down Protestors
- From: pluto <pluto@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 30 Sep 2007 07:50:06 +0800
Burmese Troops Gun Down Protestors
By Sujeewa Amaranath & Peter Symonds
29 September, 2007
Over the past two days, the Burmese military regime has brutally suppressed
large anti-junta protests in the major cities of Rangoon and Mandalay, breaking
up crowds with tear gas, batons, rubber bullets and live rounds. The state media
reported that nine people died in clashes on Thursday, but reports from
activists, diplomats and a handful of foreign journalists suggest the figure
could be considerably higher.
The crackdown began on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning when troops
raided monasteries, including the Shwedagon Pagoda and Sule Pagoda in Rangoon,
arresting hundreds of Buddhist monks. Five key monasteries, which have been
centres of opposition, were declared no-go areas and sealed off to prevent
protestors from gathering.
In one incident, soldiers forced their way into the Ngwe Kyar monastery in South
Okkalapa, a suburb of Rangoon, Wednesday night and arrested about 100 monks.
Thousands of people gathered in nearby streets and began pelting the troops with
stones. Eight people, including a high school student, died when soldiers opened
fire with automatic weapons.
Up to 70,000 people defied a military ban and marched in Rangoon on Thursday.
Protests reportedly took place in Mandalay and other centres, including Sittwe,
Pakokku and Moulmein. In central Rangoon, near the Sule Pagoda, some 20
truckloads of troops and police set up roadblocks. As protestors threw stones
and bottles, the security forces responded with shots and tear gas. Eyewitnesses
said the military gave people 10 minutes to disperse and started firing.
Among the dead was a Japanese journalist, Kenji Nagai, 50, who was photographing
the clashes. The state media claimed that a stray bullet had killed him, but
amateur video shown on Japan?s Fuji television showed him being deliberately
Reports of protests yesterday were scanty. The country?s main Internet
connection had been cut, blocking the stream of photographs, video and reports
that were reaching the outside world in previous days. The mobile phone network
was also not functioning. While officials reported damage to an undersea cable,
there is little doubt that the generals have ordered the censorship.
A correspondent for the London-based Times described smaller protests near the
Sule Pagoda and clashes of young demonstrators with heavily-armed security
forces. ?It was a loose, ragged, frustrating day in Rangoon, a day of baton
charges, beatings and many rumours of much worse. I saw soldiers levelling guns,
firing volleys of hard rubber pellets, as well as chases and arrests,? he wrote.
Agence France Presse reported that up to 10,000 people were involved in protests
yesterday in central Rangoon and repeatedly confronted troops and police. A
separate group of around 500 marched through the streets and were applauded by
onlookers. In Mandalay, thousands of young people on motorbikes rode down a
major thoroughfare toward a blockade set up by security forces, but were driven
The police round up of opposition leaders, including members of the National
League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi, is continuing. An NLD
official told the media that two prominent leaders, Hla Pe and Myint Thei, were
arrested in raids on their homes. Members of the 88 Generation Students Group,
an organisation formed last year by veterans of the 1988 protests against the
junta, have been detained.
Students, young monks and ordinary people are displaying great courage in
confronting the junta and its troops, and demanding basic democratic rights and
better living standards. However, the limited character of the opposition?s
political perspective is underscored by its appeals to the UN and major powers
The condemnations of the junta by US President George Bush, British Prime
Minister Gordon Brown and other leaders reek of hypocrisy. The Bush
administration and its allies are no more concerned about democratic rights in
Burma than in Iraq, where the US military is every bit as ruthless as its
Burmese counterparts in suppressing popular opposition to its continued
Washington?s objection to the Burmese junta is not its suppression of democratic
rights, but its close alignment with China. Over the past week, the American
media in particular has tried to pin the blame for the junta?s violence on the
failure of Beijing to take sufficiently strong action. A Washington Post
editorial on Thursday, for instance, was entitled ?Save Burma: Will China and
Russia give green light to a slaughter of monks?? It criticised the two powers
for blocking a UN resolution condemning the violence in Burma.
No doubt, China and Russia are cynically supporting repressive regimes to
advance their economic and strategic interests. But they are not alone. In the
case of Burma, India quietly dropped its criticism of the junta and is seeking
to extend its economic and diplomatic influence in the country. Burma?s largest
trading partner is not China, but neighbouring Thailand, which is ruled by a
military dictatorship with tacit US support. The Bush administration?s campaign
on Burma is not motivated by concerns for ordinary Burmese, but is aimed at
establishing a pro-US regime in Rangoon as part of its strategic encirclement of
Moreover, one can safely predict that the present media adulation for the
protestors would rapidly change if the demonstrations and marches began to take
a more radical direction. Unlike the protests of 1988, which involved
significant sections of workers, the recent demonstrations have been, to date,
largely dominated by monks and students. The entry of substantial sections of
working people into political action would not only shake the junta, but would
reverberate through the region and internationally.
Far from being endowed with great strength, the Burmese junta is acting from a
position of weakness. Despised by the majority of the population, the generals
are confronting a profound economic crisis. Despite the development of offshore
gas fields, the economy is plagued by inflation, which is running at an
estimated annual rate of 20 percent, and chronic shortages of investment and
foreign exchange. Economic analysts generally treat the official claims of high
growth rates with scepticism. In 2003, the regime declared a growth figure of
5.1 percent, even as it confronted a private banking crisis and banned the
export of six major crops.
The gulf between the pampered lifestyle of the generals and the poverty
confronting the majority of the population is staggering. More than 90 percent
of the population live on less than 300,000 kyat (about $US300) a year. An
estimated 43 percent of children under the age of five are malnourished. On
average, nearly 70 percent of household income is spent of food?that is,
surviving from one day to the next. Spending on health care and education
amounts to just 1.4 percent of GDP?less than half that of Indonesia, the
region?s next lowest spender.
The latest protests were triggered last month by the junta?s decision to slash
price subsidies on petrol, diesel and gas, increasing transport costs and
sending the price of basic items skyrocketting. Opposition leaders, however,
have not sought to mobilise the social discontent of ordinary working people to
bring down the junta, but rather deliberately limited the protest demands.
A statement released by the 88 Generation Students and the All Burma Monks
Alliance last week listed just three demands: the release of political
prisoners, economic well-being and national reconciliation. Like Aung San Suu
Kyi and the NLD, these groups are seeking to use the protests and international
diplomacy to pressure the regime into dialogue and a compromise power-sharing
arrangement. The NLD?s basic program, which consists of implementing
IMF-dictated reforms to open Burma up to foreign investors, would be just as
catastrophic for ordinary working people as the junta?s economic policies.
The conclusion that some of the veterans of the 1988 protests appear to have
drawn is that their previous demands were too radical. In fact, the opposite is
the case. In 1988, the junta was reeling under the impact of strikes in the oil
industry, transport, postal services, telecommunications and factories, as well
as widespread protests. It managed to cling to power by striking a deal with the
NLD to end the protests in return for elections in 1990. Having stabilised their
rule, the generals simply ignored the outcome of the poll, suppressed the
opposition and continued in power.
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