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Self-immolation in Myanmar against military dictatorship

by Shyamal Sarkar, Merinews, March 23, 2008

Military governed Myanmar where people are pining for democracy, witnessed what is thought to be the first self-immolation in protest against the junta and the way it is running the country. Audacious cost of living brought on the public suicide.

Yangon, Myanmar -- IN THE first self-immolation in the recent history of Myanmar, a man set himself on fire in Yangon the former capital of the country, protesting against the suffering brought on by acute economic hardship in the military ruled country. The self-immolation was carried out in full view of people at the Shwedagon Pagoda, according to reports in the Myanmar media in exile.
 
<< Shwedagon Pagoda: The act of self-immolation by an unidentified man took place here

The unidentified man thought to be in his thirties spoke about the difficulties he was undergoing because of the rising cost of living before he set himself on fire on Friday's Full Moon Day of Tabaung, a religiously important event for Buddhists at the historic pagoda. The pagoda has often been a rallying point for movements by members of opposition political parties, said Reuters on Sunday.
 
"It was about 8:40am when he poured petrol on his body and ignited himself with fire from a candle," Reuters quoted a woman eyewitness as saying.
 

The trustees of the pagoda confirmed the immolation but refused to give details.
 
Thousands of devotees milled around, it being a holiday and another eyewitness told Associated Press that the man shouted, "Down with the military regime," before dousing himself with petrol and setting himself on fire.
 
The pagoda has been a venue for political protests, demonstrations and uprisings since the colonial era when the British ruled what was then Burma (Myanmar, now). During the widespread demonstrations led by monks in September 2007 protesters comprising monks, students and the people gathered in Shwedagon pagoda.
 
Almost two decades after an uprising by students in 1988 when thousands were gunned down by the Myanmar Army, the poverty stricken southeast Asian country witnessed widespread protests and demonstrations launched by the 1988 student generation over an announced massive hike in fuel prices in August 2007 triggering an increase in prices of essential commodities and transport fares. The protests demanding a roll back in the fuel prices snowballed into demonstrations for a change from military rule to a civilian democratic government.
 
The Myanmar military junta, infamous for its ruthlessness let loose the army on the one and-a-half month long protests which was later spearheaded by monks after the students were incarcerated. While the junta claimed 10 people had died, a United Nations investigation said 31 monks and people had died and thousands arrested. Pro-democracy activists in Myanmar and in exile claimed that the figure was much higher. There has been strong ripples of unrest ever since and the ruthless regime continues to detain and torture dissidents, despite repeated appeals by the United Nations and the international community demanding their release along with other political prisoners like democracy icon and Noble Peace laureate Aung Suu Kyi.
 
The self-immolation during the weekend portends fresh unrest in a country where military dictatorship festers like a sore.



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