Burmese Military Regime Crackdown on Protests

23 Aug

Demonstration in Burma

 

Demonstration on Wednesday

The Burmese military regime has cracked down on protests twice again within a week.

According to Al Jazeera, a rare silent protest march, led by pro-democracy activists, on 19th August, sees as many as 500 people walking down a major road north of Yangon for about 9 kilometres. They were protesting against a 100 per cent rise in fuel prices at state-owned petrol stations.

A later BBC news article reported that at least seven top leaders of the pro-democracy 88 Generation Students group have been arrested to prevent protest fervour from spreading. According to the state media, they were arrested for “undermining stability and the security of the nation”.

Despite the arrests, more Burmese have taken to the streets to show their displeasure against the government. According to Al Jazeera, as many as 300 protested on Wednesday, 22 August, which further resulted in at least another six activists being arrested. The US Campaign for Burma, an activist group based in Washington, said that five university students and three members of Myanmar Development Committee, another activist group, were separately detained. Their arrests were however not reported by the state media.

In another incident (of which we are not sure if it part of the Wednesday protest), women activists have led a protest march in Rangoon. According to the report from Burma Digest, “there have also been reports of attacks by security forces and activists identified some of their attackers were women. They were holding sticks and chasing out activists from neighbourhood.”

The Burmese government has much to fear with the current protests as they are aimed at bread and butter issues which seriously affect the livelihood of the average Burmese. Fuel hikes not only increase the costs of transportation, but prices of necessities such as food.

Thuria Ayza, in a write-up for Burmese Digest, believes that the military regime is able to subsidise fuel prices but unwilling to do so.

She puts forth the explanation that Burma produces large quantities of natural gas through its off-shore fields and getting paid handsomely by selling them to neighbouring countries. Moreover, Burma’s low car ownership plus a strict petrol ration which limits a private car owner to only two gallons of petrol a week means the government can easily afford subsidize petrol prices if they really want to.

She puts it crudely, “the Government is not interested at all in people’s welfare; their first and foremost aim now is to become a North Korean style rogue nuclear power. And so they want to invest all their billion dollar gas money on buying nuclear facilities from Russia. It’s very much like the insane Great Leap Forward in China during communist Mao Hse Tong era; millions of Chinese were dying from starvation while their Chairman Mao leapt forward to nuclear power status.”

It is apparent, with this crackdown, that the Burmese military regime has not shown any signs or efforts to democratise. This is despite the fact that ASEAN, of which it is a member of, is planning to form a charter with a human rights mechanism. The immediate task, for ASEAN and the international community, is to pressurise the military government to release the activists arrested during this crackdown.

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