YANGON — Demonstrators clashed with police in the Karenni State capital, Loikaw, on Tuesday during a march to protest the regional government’s plan to erect a statue of General Aung San.
About 1,000 local ethnic people marched in three groups to protest against the statue-building project in the capital, shouting the slogans, “We don’t want discord sown among ethnicities,” “We don’t want the distortion of Karenni history” and “We don’t want the arbitrary construction of [a statue of] Gen. Aung San by the state government.” The marchers condemned the regional government for failing to heed local people’s voices.
“We have our own respected ethnic heroes and martyrs. I oppose the plan, as the state government is forcing it upon us while neglecting our traditions and values. They need to respect ethnic minorities’ rights and listen to our voice,” a protester said in a live video streamed on KNGY’s Facebook page on Monday.
Another protester said that instead of erecting a statue of Gen. Aung San, the government should fulfill the promises he made.
When the groups arrived near the city’s clocktower, about 70 police equipped with shields and batons blocked the march.
Khun Thomas from the Kayan New Generation Youth (KNGY) group said that in their original proposal to police, organizers said they planned to continue the march to the park where the statue is to be installed, and then to hold speeches in the city’s speakers’ corner.
“The police waited for us there and stopped us. We negotiated with the [Loikaw Township] general administrator. But they wouldn’t allow us to march to the park or to the speakers’ corner,” he said.
Administrators told them to change the route, and refused to allow the groups to march to speakers’ corner, which is near the State Parliament.
Khun Thomas said that as the protesters tried to continue the march, some of them were beaten with batons and received minor injuries. Some police sustained minor injuries in the clash, he added.
During the clash, an organizer was briefly detained by police and released shortly after protesters staged a sit-in protest in front of the police van.
On June 18, local youth groups sent an open letter to the state government asking it to review the statue-building project and for the ongoing construction of the statue to be halted.
The next day, the chief minister told The Irrawaddy the regional government would push ahead with its plan, for which it has allotted a budget of 80 million kyats (US$56,890).