MANDALAY — About 1,000 farmers, students, labourers, Buddhist monks and community leaders gathered in Mandalay on Friday to call for better protection of land rights, democratic reforms and abolishment of Burma’s military-drafted Constitution.
At a five-hour rally next to U Pwar Pagoda, senior monks, farmers’ representatives and student leaders took turns to give speeches demanding broad political reforms from President Thein Sein’s nominally-civilian government.
“Most of the problems [in Burma] are because of the bad government who do not want to serve its people. The bad government come up with the 2008 Constitution, which is why it is important to abolish it,” said Sayardaw U Thawbita, a Mandalay-based member of the Saffron Revolution Buddhist Monks Network.
“We want to urge the government to listen to the voices of its people and take action to fulfil the needs of the country and citizens,” he added.
The 2008 Constitution grants the military significant political power, including direct control over a quarter of Parliament, and prevents popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because her sons are UK nationals.
Organizations involved in the rally included Movement of Democracy Current Force, the Facilitator Network with Farmers and Labours and the Ba Ka Tha Student Union.
U Arriyawuntha, an abbot from Myawaddy Mingyi Monastery, alleged that the government had purposely failed to prevent inter-communal violence between Burma’s Buddhists and the Muslim minority, which rocked parts of the country in recent years.
“Since military rule, they created such communal violence intentionally to divert the anger of the citizens and to maintain their power,” he said. “We also want to tell the people that we must understand this, and we must be alert to stop such violence, which threatens the stability of the county.”
In a joint statement distributed at the rally the organizations called for a new charter, better protection of land rights, labour rights and an independent education system.
The groups said they were sending their demands to Parliament, the president and foreign embassies. They also called for greater public involved in their cause and said more rallies would be held in the near future.
A particular focus of the activists’ anger was the China-backed Letpadaung copper mine, where recent farmers’ protests against land seizures led to a violent confrontation with the police, who shot and killed a farmer named Khin Win.
Her daughter, named Win Khin, addressed the event on Friday.
“We are only working on our land as planting crop is the only livelihood we know. My mother was shot dead because of this project, which is why we call for an end to this project. If the project is still exists we’re afraid, there will be more cases like my mother’s,” she said.