President to Skip Martyrs’ Day Ceremony in Rangoon

By The Irrawaddy 11 July 2016

RANGOON — President Htin Kyaw will not be attending the Martyrs’ Day ceremony on July 19 at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Rangoon, according to President’s Office spokesperson Zaw Htay.

The annual government-run ceremony marks the date in 1947 when Burma’s independence hero Aung San—father of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi—and eight of his colleagues were assassinated at the instigation of a political rival.

No Burmese head of state has attended the ceremony since the military coup of 1988. The large red mausoleum—where the bodies of Aung San and his fallen comrades lie interred—located just north of the Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon’s Bahan Township, was declared off limits after the coup, for fear of public gatherings sparking unrest.

Until the inauguration in 2011 of the reformist administration of President Thein Sein, the most senior official to attend the ceremony was the Rangoon mayor. The Thein Sein government began to allow the public to pay their respects at the mausoleum on Martyrs’ Day, drawing large, emotional crowds.

Ceremonies on subsequent years saw the participation of vice presidents and Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest in late 2010 and entered the parliament in 2012. However, President Thein Sein stayed aloof—a stance that Burma’s new president has chosen to follow.

“The president will be in Naypyidaw to make offerings to Buddhist monks and share the merit of the fallen leaders,” Zaw Htay told the Irrawaddy.

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi will again be attending the ceremony at the mausoleum in Rangoon, he confirmed.

A central committee led by Vice President (1) Myint Swe was formed to organize the ceremony for this year.

The mausoleum, built in 1985 under the military socialist dictatorship of Ne Win, is currently undergoing a renovation. Architects involved in its construction have shared with The Irrawaddy their misgivings regarding the highly abstract design that they were forced to adhere to, which obscures any reference to Aung San or his comrades.

Until recently, names or pictures of those interred were nowhere to be seen on the large red structure, whose platform is able to hold 600 people. There is also no signage to educate visitors on the significance of the site.

Aside from the ceremony at the mausoleum on July 19, an official commemoration will be held at the Secretariat—an abandoned government complex in downtown Rangoon dating from the colonial era—where the general and his colleagues were gunned down.