88 Generation Denounces Violent Dispersal of Rangoon Protest

By Sanay Lin 6 March 2015

RANGOON — Leaders from Burma’s most prominent pro-democracy group on Thursday condemned the government’s handling of a protest in Rangoon just hours prior, when baton-wielding police and plainclothes thugs forcibly dispersed a crowd in front of City Hall.

During a press conference Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, said the organization could not accept the crackdown on Thursday afternoon in downtown Rangoon, in which several people were injured and at least eight protestors detained.

“I have to question: With an armband, are those people authorized to grab a woman by her throat in the presence of many people? Who told them to do so? We have to ask [the government] these questions,” he told reporters, referring to plainclothes men wearing red armed bands emblazoned with the word “Duty” in Burmese, who used force to help police break up the demonstration.

Ko Ko Gyi, another 88 Generation leader, said Thursday’s protest peaceful and was held to demand that the government abstain from resorting to violence in its handling of student protestors camped out about 85 miles northwest of Rangoon.

“It was nothing much different from what they did in the past,” he said, referring to authorities’ handling of dissenters.

“Who ordered this? The government must investigate it,” he added.

During the crackdown, Nilar Thein, a prominent student activist from the 88 Generation, was among those detained on Thursday and released the next morning.

State-run newspapers reported on Friday that authorities had dispersed the protestors because they had not sought government permission, as is required under Burma’s Peaceful Assembly Law.

Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and other members of the 88 Generation were at the forefront of student-led nationwide protests in 1988, a pro-democracy uprising that was ultimately crushed by the ruling military government.

The protest in front of City Hall was held in support of about 200 students currently being blockaded from marching to Rangoon by police in Letpadan, Pegu Division. Authorities there are preventing the marchers from completing a journey they began on Jan. 20, when they set out from Mandalay to protest a controversial education law that they are seeking to have amended.

Five protestors in the town were arrested on Friday morning.