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Burmese protests a chance to push reforms agenda

world Updated: May 26, 2012 01:31 IST

Reuters
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Five days of street protests over chronic power shortages present Myanmar's reformist government with a headache and an opportunity.

Police forcibly dispersed protesters in the central Myanmar town of Pyi on Thursday, a heavy-handed response reminiscent of the previous military junta that could fuel grievances among an impoverished and long-neglected people.

But state television also announced emergency measures on Wednesday to boost electricity supplies, suggesting a government that realises how popular discontent could derail its reform process and irk the US and Europe, which recently suspended sanctions on this once-isolated country.

The danger is that these protests spark similar anger over other bread-and-butter issues bedevilling the people - high food and fuel prices and jobs for instance.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/5/25_05-pg-15a.jpg

"If they want us to stop protesting, they will have to give 24-hour electricity and more human rights," said K Lwin, a 20-year-old who joined about 100 others on Thursday for a third night of protests in Yangon.

"I hate the previous government. The new government is better ... but they can improve."

The protests are the latest challenge for reformist President Thein Sein who has freed hundreds of political prisoners, started peace talks with ethnic minority rebel groups and held historic by-elections that catapulted Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party into parliament.

The power protests have produced what could be another Myitsone moment: a chance for the government to prove it knows how to listen.

It has vowed to rush in six 2-megawatt generators bought from US company Caterpillar Inc and two 25-megawatt gas turbines from US conglomerate General Electric Co.

Protesters have accused the former military government of selling natural gas to China while Myanmar faces power outages.