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Myanmar's Bloody "8-8-88" Uprising Remembered

August 10, 2008

August 7, 2008

A visitor looks at pictures of political prisoners displayed at the
Political Prisoners Museum in Mae Sot town near the Thai-Myanmar
border on August 6, 2008. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images)

YANGON -- Cowed and afraid, people in Myanmar marked exactly 20 years
on Friday since the army crushed an "8-8-88" democracy uprising with
the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives, although the only protests were
outside the country.

After last year's widespread fuel-price rallies, the generals in
charge of the former Burma were taking no chances, posting armed
police and pro-government thugs at strategic sites around Yangon,
such as the gilded Shwedagon pagoda.

Most of the leaders of the 1988 uprising, the biggest challenge to
army rule dating back to 1962, have been behind bars since the start
of the fuel-price demonstrations last August. They are just a few of
an estimated 1,100 political prisoners.

"We are not planning any official ceremony, although some people
might choose to do something in private," Nyan Win, a spokesman for
the opposition National League for Democracy, said.

Others concurred, citing the daily struggle to survive in one of
Asia's poorest nations and a sense of the futility of protest that
has lingered since 1988 and last year's crackdown, in which at least
31 people were killed.

"Nobody is happy with the present situation, but most people know
from experience that protests will not change their lives," English
teacher Hla Maung told Reuters.

Outside the pariah Southeast Asian nation, however, human rights
groups and activists who fled the 1988 bloodshed staged
demonstrations outside Myanmar and Chinese embassies.

In Bangkok, dozens of protesters chanted anti-junta slogans, burnt
Myanmar flags and waved placards calling for the release of democracy
icon and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house
arrest in Yangon.

In the Philippine capital Manila, activists from the Free Burma
Coalition and Amnesty International criticized Chinese support for the junta.

About 40 activists marched with mock Olympic torches to the Chinese
embassy, calling on China to use the Games to improve human rights.

"Remember the Atrocities"

China is being targeted on what is also the opening day of the
Beijing Olympic Games because of its commercial and diplomatic ties
to the generals, gate-keepers of Myanmar's plentiful reserves of
natural gas and other resources.

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

"This anniversary is testament to the Burmese people's enduring
demand for freedom and to the world's failure to end repressive
military rule. And China, more than any other country, has enabled
the survival of the brutal Burmese regime," she said.

August 8, 1988 -- 8-8-88 -- was chosen as the focus of the uprising
because of its numerologically auspicious connotations for most
Burmese. It was also said to be a powerful foil to then military
supremo Ne Win, whose lucky number was nine.

On Thursday, U.S. President George W. Bush used a visit to
neighboring Thailand, home to more than 100,000 Myanmar refugees and
more than a million migrant workers, to highlight the 1988 bloodshed
and call yet again for Suu Kyi's release.

"The American people care deeply about the people of Burma and dream
for the day the people will be free," he told dissidents and former
political prisoners at an hour-long lunch.

He also heard criticism of Washington's stance towards Myanmar --
labeled an "outpost of tyranny" by Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice — for forcing the generals into the international isolation that
junta supremo Than Shwe craves.

"I asked him to engage with the Burmese military," activist Aung
Naing Oo, who fled for his life 20 years ago, said. "It's only Than
Shwe and a few other generals who want to isolate Burma, so I told
him engagement was very important."
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