Friday, October 5, 2007


By Anuj Chopra

I came to Burma in late August to investigate the growing protests sparked by government fuel price hikes -- just weeks before smaller protests swelled to massive demonstrations led by tens of thousands of monks. In a religiously devout country where nearly 80 percent of the population is Buddhist, the monks hold tremendous sway over the Burmese people.

A few days after I arrived, walking down Rangoon's busy Shwe Gon Daing street, I encountered a small but angry group of about 35 protesters chanting slogans against the government's decision to raise fuel prices. Security officials in plain clothes emerged on the scene quickly. Shops in the area rolled down their shutters. Journalists were ordered to stay on the other side of the road and refrain from taking pictures, and a waiting crowd watched in nervous anticipation. The protesters were roughed up -- some of them punched in the face -- and then tossed into a waiting police truck. The small demonstration was crushed in a matter of minutes. It's not the army in uniforms beating up people, I noticed, but thugs probably hired by the junta. I wondered if the military regime feels it has less direct culpability that way. I was watching from a distance like a curious bystander and didn't risk taking out my camera. But the junta's photographers were busy clicking pictures of the crowd. I was told they keep track of who is attending these protest rallies. If the same people are seen in more than two protest rallies, they fall under the government's radar of suspicion. In these early weeks of the protest public participation is still conspicuously low. For days the government paper, The New Light of Myanmar, has been carrying ominous articles warning protesters that if they didn't cease and desist, they could be in jail for up to 20 years. Even the air coughs fear...

1 comment:

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