At the same time, the military government is completing work on the country’s new constitution. The National Convention, after 14 years of deliberation, is drawing up guidelines for Myanmar’s new charter which it says will lead to democracy.
Aung Moe Min, a pro-democracy activist told US-supported Radio Free Asia before the walk was brought to a halt: “I know that it will be a long and tedious walk and is bound to face crackdowns by the authorities.
“The government that has declared to bring democracy to the country must support the peaceful acts of the people who are exercising their civil rights.”
“But it could turn into a political demonstration if the hardships become unbearable”
Khin Ohmar, Asia Pacific People’s Partnership on Burma
Bangkok-based Asia Pacific People’s Partnership on Burma (APPPB) says the protests could lead to demonstrations on a scale similar to the massive uprising of university students in 1988.
Khin Ohmar, the APPPB coordinator, said the protests could turn political if the economic situation worsens.
She said the 1988 uprising was triggered by a similar economic crisis and public frustration.
“So far, all the protests have been against the fuel price hike, including the planned 160-kilometre march,” she told Al Jazeera. “But it could turn into a political demonstration if the hardships become unbearable.
“These protests could just be the beginning of a more organised demonstration… the current momentum of the protests might lead to a political demonstration in the coming weeks or months.”
Khin Ohmar said one major difference between the present protests and the 1988 incident was the public support.
“The dynamics are very different now. In 1988, it was only the students who tried to get organised but now the activists are getting the support of the people who are also voicing out their frustrations,” she said.
“I see this all over the country … this sentiment of people protesting against the economic crisis, and it is slowly spreading to other parts of the country.”
Khin Ohmar also said the government was monitoring all forms of communication going in and out of Myanmar.
“The communication system compared to 1988 is far better now, which is why the government can monitor everything including mobile phone calls,” she said.
“In fact, the Burmese people are relying on Burmese media outside the country for news of what is happening internally.”
In Geneva, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN’s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, said on Friday there were reports that some of the more recent detainees were “severely beaten and tortured”.
Meanwhile, the government said people can expect elections with the conclusion of the first stage of its “road map to democracy”, declaring the completion of the guidelines as a “victory”.
Critics say the proceedings are a sham, and a tactic to prolong the military’s grip on power.
The 1,000 delegates were selected by the government, and excluded pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is under house arrest.
The drafting of the actual constitution is the next stage in the seven-step road map, but it remains unclear who will be entrusted with the task.
The final draft charter would then be submitted to a national referendum.