Myanmar holds democracy activists

Fuel protest organiser seized after manhunt by the military government.

    About 65 activists are believed to have been detained since protests started a week ago [AFP]
    Myanmar fuel protests

    Fuel protest timeline

    Who's who

    Police and government supporters from the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) had been stopping cars and checking bus, railway and ferry terminals across the former capital in one of the harshest crackdowns in years.

    Passengers were ordered out of vehicles to have their papers checked against photographs of Htin Kyaw and Htay Kywe, the leader of a 1988 student uprising who remains at large.

    Htin Kyaw is the leader of the pro-democracy group Myanmar Development Committee and has already been detained three times this year for demonstrating against falling living standards in the country.
    Meanwhile, a government official defended the hike in fuel prices, saying
    that the increase was triggered by spiralling global oil prices. He denied it was a political move.
    Thaung Tun, Myanmar's ambassador to Manila, told The Associated Press on Sunday that Myanmar could no longer afford to subsidise fuel so heavily because of the increases in prices worldwide.
    "The government has no recourse but to remove the subsidies," he said. "If you won't do that, it'll be very costly to the government... It's not politics."
    Streets deserted

    The streets of Yangon were nearly deserted on Sunday, with most markets closed and barely any passengers waiting at the usually  crowded bus stops in the country's commercial capital.

    "They have made the strongest possible allegations against these activists. Their trials must be open"

    Nyan Win, 
    National League
    for Democracy spokesman

    Security officials were about, however, to prevent a repeat of the largely peaceful demonstrations that started a week ago and have led to an estimated 65 arrests.

    The state-controlled newspaper The New Light of Myanmar said 13 of those arrested were from the pro-democracy 88 Generation Students group - which was at the forefront of a pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

    They were being interrogated for allegedly undermining the government, colluding with insurgent groups and harming the community peace, it said. 
    They could face up to 20 years in jail if charged.

    Last September, the regime made similar allegations against the activists, holding them at a high security police compound until January but on Sunday they were reportedly moved to the infamous Insein prison.

    Prisoners moved

    "We are wondering if the regime will really charge them this time because they were moved to Insein Central Prison," a relative of one of the activists told Reuters news agency.

    Many political prisoners have been held at the prison on the outskirts of Yongbon in what they have later described as harsh conditions.

    "They have made the strongest possible allegations against these activists. Their trials must be open. These activists should be heard in open court," Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) said.

    Suu Kyi, whose NLD party won a 1990 landslide election victory only to be denied power by the army, has spent most of the 17 years since in prison or under house arrest.

    Despite the unusual sight of demonstrators on the streets of the military-controlled state, analysts do not expect another uprising.

    "Although the public probably is behind the relatively few demonstrators in the streets, I do not think that now the people as a whole are ready in any major way to risk their lives," David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert at Georgetown University in Washington, said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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