Zarni Mann
NAT MAUK, Magwe Division – Adoring crowds turned out at the birthplace of the late General Aung San on Friday to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth, for an event attended by his youngest daughter, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Some estimated that more than 10,000 people gathered in the small town of Nat Mauk, in Magwe Division, shuffling in from various parts of the country to honor the late independence leader and catch a glimpse of the Lady, Suu Kyi. Addressing the crowd, she called for unity and responsibility among the nation’s citizens, urging them to follow in the footsteps of her father and push for peace. “Not only the government, but also the citizens, need to fulfill their own duties,” she said, asking listeners to be discerning about leadership and to support those who “rule with love and faith.” [irrawaddy_gallery] Crowds were rapt as she spoke lovingly about her father’s legacy. “Remembering my father and honoring him by trying our best to have unity, peace and honesty, to be a country with genuine democracy, is better than paying tribute at a mausoleum,” she said to the sea of flag-waving supporters. Celebrations began in Nat Mauk on Feb. 7, with sermons by some of the nation’s most revered monks, including Sitagu Sayadaw and Ashin Sanadika. Live performances were also held throughout the week, such as opera and dance showcasing Shan, Pa-O, Karenni, Palaung and Lisu traditions. “We’ve been here since Feb. 7, and we slept on our bus just to celebrate General Aung San’s birthday, because this is once in a lifetime,” said Daw Mya Thin, 72, who came from Pa Yin village in Magwe Division. Despite an immovable traffic jam and a shortage of food and accommodation, those who traveled from far-flung places were thrilled to be a part of the festivities. Many locals beamed with pride, but expressed regret that the town was underprepared for the flood of visitors. “We are so happy to host such a grand ceremony, and we feel great that our town is not forgotten,” said Daw Khin Nwae, an 80-year-old cousin of the late Aung San. In tears, she added, “We feel sorry at the same time, as our town is too small for such a big crowd.” Crowds tussled over limited complimentary servings of one of Aung San’s favorite meals—Indian flatbread served with steamed beans—dished out to 5,000 revelers each day. One of the lucky ones, 54-year-old Myint Oo from Yaynanchaung, said the snack was symbolic, and that “the centennial would not be compete without Nan Pya and steamed bean, a favorite food of our beloved general.” Later on Friday, Suu Kyi addressed another enormous crowd in Kyaukse, Mandalay Division, where she spoke at length about the need to fight corruption in the government. Suu Kyi said that government employees should be offered fair pay and security, and that tackling corruption will require a “change of mindset” by those in power. Aung San, often affectionately referred to as “Bogyoke,” was the founder of the modern Burma Army and a leading figure in Burma’s independence movement. He was well-known for his efforts to unite the country’s diverse populace, and is viewed by many as a national hero. Less than a year before Burma officially became independent of British colonial rule, Aung San and several of his cabinet members were assassinated in Rangoon. He was 32 years old. His daughter, Suu Kyi, went on to found the National League for Democracy, the nation’s main opposition party, which has orchestrated a series of events in honor of the centennial of his birth. Events will be held in Rangoon, Lashio, Mandalay, Kyaukse, Magwe, Yaynanchaung and many other cities throughout the country, where statues of the late general will be unveiled.

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