Myanmar authorities have released 43 demonstrators who held one of the country's few protests marking the anniversary of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, an opposition party official said on Saturday.
No significant protests were reported in Yangon, the country's biggest city, where security personnel were brought out in large numbers to stave off any trouble. Activists there performed small gestures, such as laying flower baskets with slogans by a roadside. A group of 48 young protesters marched peacefully on Friday in Rakhine State, a western province, which is one of the military-ruled country's more active areas for anti-government protests.
The marchers, some wearing white T-shirts with the number 8-8-88 to mark the occasion, complied with a police request to surrender, said Thein Naing, joint secretary of the Rakhine State organizing committee of the National League for Democracy party. He said 43 of the marchers were released on Friday night. "I hope those remaining five will also be released as they had not done anything to harm the peace," said Thein Naing. "They did it in memory of those who were killed in 1988 and I hope the authorities who have declared plans to establish democracy in the country will treat those youths leniently and release them quickly."
Taunggok and other parts of Rakhine saw militant protests during large pro-democracy demonstrations in September, which were violently suppressed by the military. Some of the bigger pro-democracy protests held since that time have also been in the area, while most of Myanmar remains subdued.
Overseas supporters of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement also held small demonstrations marking the anniversary, including gatherings in neighboring Thailand and the Philippines.
The August 8, 1988 protests were the high-point of a series of demonstrations against military rule that began in 1962, spurred by the government's demonetization of the currency that wiped out many people's savings.
The protests brought down longtime dictator Ne Win, but a new group of generals replaced him and brutally crushed the protests in September, killing an estimated 3,000 people.
The 1988 protests propelled Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Myanmar independence hero Aung San, into the political limelight, and led to the founding of her National League for Democracy party to challenge army rule.
Elections were held in 1990, but the military refused to recognize the landslide victory of Suu Kyi's party. Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has spent more than 12 of the past 19 years in detention and is currently under house arrest in Yangon.