Protesters gather to demonstrate against the February 1 military coup, in downtown Yangon on February 8, 2021. (AFP)

Myanmar protesters mark pivotal 1988 uprising anniversary

By AFP

Myanmar protesters on Sunday marked the anniversary of a 1988 pro-democracy uprising that brought Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to prominence, with flash mobs and marches of defiance against the ruling junta.

The country has been in turmoil since the military coup in February — more than 900 people have been killed and thousands arrested in the subsequent crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.

But protesters remain undeterred, taking to the streets daily in lightning-quick rallies to demand the end to the State Administration Council — as the junta’s so-called “caretaker” government has dubbed itself.

On Sunday, flash mobs popped up across Yangon and second city Mandalay to commemorate the 1988 uprising — a massive pro-democracy movement that the military violently quelled by opening fire on protesters and jailing thousands.

Following the calls of an online campaign, red-clad protesters on Sunday flashed an eight-finger salute and carried banners that read: “Let’s return the old blood debt of 1988 in 2021.”

“In 1988, our country sacrificed a lot — many people lost their lives. But the dictatorship is still alive,” said Ko Sai Win, who joined a morning protest in Mandalay.

“It is like a black shadow on our country.”

The 1988 uprising heralded the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi, who had returned to Myanmar just before protests kicked off to care for her ailing mother.

Thanks to her stature as the daughter of General Aung San, who fought for independence against the British, and her rousing speeches, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a pro-democracy icon, later receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

A shadow “National Unity Government” — formed largely of MPs from the National League for Democracy — vowed in a statement Sunday to continue the fight for democracy.

British ambassador to Myanmar Mr Peter Vowles also expressed support for the anti-junta movement.

“The UK stood by the people of Myanmar in 1988 and we stand by them today in 2021,” he said in a video posted on the British embassy’s official Twitter account.

– Weapons cache –

The 1988 uprising was arguably the most significant challenge to junta rule at the time.

Security measures were stepped up for the anniversary, said a statement from the junta’s information team Sunday.

Authorities said they arrested two men and seized a cache of weapons in Mandalay, which included scores of guns, more than 10,000 bullets and more than 160 bombs and grenades.

The information team also accused the NUG of allegedly smuggling those weapons to “cause more violence in the country”. 

To justify its power grab, the junta has alleged widespread electoral fraud by the NLD.

Aung San Suu Kyi is also facing an eclectic raft of charges including the illegal possession of walkie-talkies and breaking coronavirus rules.

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