Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Myanmar citizens mount protest at ASEAN summit

Remember how Singapore played host to the IMF / WB meetings last year? Protesters were told to protest in a less than accessible area. This time around, that country hosts Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. Burmese students took to the streets peacefully in their bide to free their homeland from the junta. It's a crash course for Human Rights for Singapore.


About 40 Myanmar residents of Singapore held a brief vigil Tuesday night to protest what they said was an inadequate response to the crisis in Myanmar by Southeast Asian leaders meeting here.

ASEAN Action For Burma

It was one of the largest public protests seen in recent memory in Singapore, which has tight rules against demonstrations.

The group of mostly young men and women, all wearing red T-shirts, lined up silently in rows of three on the main Orchard Road shopping and tourist strip.

Red T-Shirt

Many held small printed leaflets that read "ASEAN -- Act with Honour, Action on Burma Now".

Three people in front of the group held a large banner that read, "Listen to Burma's Desires, Don't Follow Junta's Order".

Listen to Burma's Desires, Don't Follow Junta's Order

Others had written messages on pieces of paper. "Respect Human Rights Now", said one. Another said, "We welcome professor Gambari on behalf of Burmese people."

The United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, arrived in Singapore Tuesday expecting to brief leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), who held their annual summit here Tuesday.

But as Gambari flew to Singapore, the city-state's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the summit chairman, announced the briefing was cancelled after Myanmar complained the envoy should only report to the Security Council.

Myo Myint Maung, 22, a spokesman for the demonstrators, said they were disappointed by ASEAN's response to the junta.

"We want ASEAN leaders to be more effective and more active regarding their action on Burma," he said. "We are standing here to hold a vigil to protest their statement."

The grouping has come under mounting pressure to rein in its errant member Myanmar after a September crackdown on mass protests, led by Buddhist monks, that left at least 15 people dead and sparked worldwide outrage.

Myo Myint Maung said ASEAN has taken "a very passive stance" towards Myanmar.

It is illegal in Singapore to hold a public gathering of five or more people without a police permit, meaning demonstrations are rare.

Myo Myint Maung said the group did not have a permit for the vigil which occurred a few hundred metres (yards) from the ASEAN summit venue, and just outside a special summit security zone in which even one protester is not permitted.

About 15 minutes after the vigil began, about 20 police converged on the group and asked if they had finished. They said they had, and peacefully dispersed as police recorded some of their names.

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