Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Friday, 8 August 2008 16:43 UK

Arrests as Burma marks uprising

Burmese activists shout a slogan in front of China Embassy in Bangkok on Friday
There were isolated protests in Burma and bigger ones elsewhere

At least 20 people have been arrested in the Burmese town of Taunggok after staging a silent protest on the 20th anniversary of a major uprising.

They were detained after marching while wearing T-shirts which referred to the date of the uprising - "8/8/88".

Activists outside Burma are marking the anniversary with demonstrations.

The 1988 protests drew hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, but ended with a violent clampdown and the deaths of at least 3,000 civilians.

The date 8 August 1988 was significant for the numerologically minded Burmese, and marked the start of six weeks of rallies against military rule.

The anniversary prompted tightened security in the main city, Rangoon, with police and pro-government militias stationed at strategic points, including Buddhist monasteries.

Secret ceremonies

The BBC is banned from Burma - also known as Myanmar - but reports from opposition sources inside the country say at least 20 people were arrested in Taunggok, and that the number could be as high as 50.

Those arrested are now being questioned, an opposition official told the Reuters news agency.

Burmese soldiers face protesters in Rangoon on 26 August 1988

It was the single largest reported incident on a day in which several other isolated protests were reported.

Three activists staging separate protests are said to have been detained in the vicinity of Rangoon.

In the city itself, opposition sources said they were concerned for the welfare of a young woman seen walking in the streets wearing a T-shirt bearing an image of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

There have been few such open signs of the significance of the date in Burma, with reports suggesting monks and laypeople met in private for secret ceremonies to remember those who died.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), told AFP news agency that the anniversary marked "an important historical turning point".

Until the 8/8/88 protests, Ms Suu Kyi was only known as the daughter of liberation hero Aung San, but her speech to the assembled protesters during the rallies propelled her to the centre of the pro-democracy movement.


Footage taken during the uprising showed protests and military clampdown

Anti-China protests

Elsewhere in Asia, human rights groups and activists who fled in the aftermath of the 1988 protests held demonstrations outside Burmese and Chinese embassies.

"We are here because China is the main supporter of the military regime," Kyaw Lin Oo, a Burmese activist, told reporters outside the Chinese embassy in Bangkok.

Although we hate the government, we cannot do anything
Hsi Tu
1988 activist

"We want the Chinese government to understand the actual cost of their support to the people inside of Burma," he added.

Anti-junta protests also took place in Manila, Tokyo, and Delhi, and protesters joined wider demonstrations to mark the start of the Olympics in London, Brussels, Berlin and Hong Kong.

"As the world celebrates the opening of the Beijing Olympics, people should pause to remember the atrocities in Burma 20 years ago," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

Hsi Tu, a handicraft maker, shared his memories of the 1988 revolt with the BBC.

"I was in Mandalay at the time, in my second year studying psychology at university," he said.

"We organised a big protest, in which some students were killed right in front of me. We took their bodies, put them on our motorbikes and drove them away. Then we came back to continue protesting."

But he said he was not hopeful that any protest movement would pose a serious threat to military rule in the near future.

"We people although we hate the government, we cannot do anything. We have no arms, while the military have a lot. It is also very difficult to unite people again.

"Most of the people are more concerned about their lives and their businesses as the economy is going down. Still, I think the Burmese are hoping the situation in the country will get better one day," he added.

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