- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 9, 2008

RANGOON, Burma | Burma’s junta arrested 48 activists Friday for a protest march marking 20 years since the army crushed an “8-8-88” democracy uprising with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives, an opposition official said.

The group of mainly young men in T-shirts bearing the numbers 8-8-88 - a reference to the Aug. 8, 1988, nationwide revolt - staged a silent walk through the northwestern town of Taunggok before being stopped by a police barricade.

“They were all picked up and are being questioned,” said Ko Thein Naing, a local official from the opposition National League for Democracy.

Given last year’s widespread fuel-price protests, the junta was taking few chances with the anniversary, posting armed police and pro-government strongmen at strategic sites in towns and cities.

Leaders of the 1988 uprising, the biggest challenge to army rule dating back to 1962, have been behind bars since the start of the fuel-price demonstrations last August. They are just a few of an estimated 1,100 political prisoners in Burma.

Some students in the northwestern city of Sittwe wore black, one of them said, but for most of Burma’s 57 million people, the sense of fear and futility, as well as the daily struggle to survive, trumped any lingering outrage.

“Nobody is happy with the present situation, but most people know from experience that protests will not change their lives,” English teacher Hla Maung said.

Outside Burma, however, human rights groups and activists who fled the 1988 bloodshed staged demonstrations near Burmese and Chinese embassies.

China was being targeted on the opening day of the Beijing Olympics because of its commercial and diplomatic ties to the generals, gate-keepers of Burma’s plentiful reserves of natural gas and other resources.

In Bangkok and Manila, dozens of protesters chanted anti-junta slogans, burned Burmese flags and waved placards calling for the release of democracy icon and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Rangoon.

Aug. 8, 1988, was chosen as the starting point of the uprising because of its numerological connotations for most Burmese. It was also said to be a powerful foil to then-military ruler Ne Win, whose lucky number was nine.

On Thursday, President Bush used a visit to Thailand, home to more than 100,000 Burmese refugees and more than a million migrant workers, to highlight the 1988 bloodshed and call yet again for Mrs. Suu Kyi’s release.



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