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Myanmar tests limits of freedom

As long-isolated Myanmar opens up, its people are flexing their newly democratic muscles and testing the boundaries of freedom in a series of protests over chronic power outages.

world Updated: May 23, 2012 23:53 IST

As long-isolated Myanmar opens up, its people are flexing their newly democratic muscles and testing the boundaries of freedom in a series of protests over chronic power outages.

On Tuesday evening, several hundred people in the commercial capital Yangon marched at Sule Pagoda, the focal point of demonstrations in 2007 and 1988 that were crushed by the military which ruled for nearly half a century until last year.

About 1,000 people protested for a third straight evening in northern Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, the biggest demonstrations since a 2007 monk-led uprising in which dozens were killed and hundreds arrested.

"We have plans to hold similar protests in all these cities tonight," rights activist Ko Htin Kyaw, an organiser, said.

The protests pose a difficult test for reformist President Thein Sein who has freed hundreds of political prisoners, relaxed state censorship, started peace talks with ethnic minority rebel groups and held historic by-elections that catapulted Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party into a semi-civilian parliament.

Aung Thu Nyein, a Myanmar economist, said: "These protests are both a sign of dissatisfaction about public services and how the opening of democratic space is making interest groups more active than before."

But the demonstrations have gone smoothly with no arrests and no unrest. In Yangon, police watched as protesters stuck candles in front of a shrine but did nothing to stop them.