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neat date numbers!

it's the 20th anniversary of when all the students were gunned down in burma, just a year before tienamen square, which obviously became much more famous. 8/8/88

folks in ottawa, there will be a small gathering at the human rights monument (elgin and lisgar) at 5 pm if anyone is downtown and wants to drop by. then at 7 pm. a slide show and survivor speakers will share some memories at the city council chamber.

the forecast is rain for tomorrow, boo! i dunno if the outdoor thing will happen if it's raining.

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Toronto Star

For Burma's long-suffering people, Aug. 8, 1988 is a date etched in blood: a national trauma that left scars still unhealed. It commemorates a rebellion that dared to demand democracy, and won a bitter moral victory in its defeat.

"All summer the students were mobilizing," says Tin Maung Htoo, then a 16-year-old high school student leader in Rangoon. "There were protests and universities were closed. But the tipping point came when (ruling) Gen. Ne Win warned that if demonstrations continued the army would shoot point blank."

The brutal leader made good on the threat. And at the end of the uprising, more than 10,000 students, monks and ordinary citizens would be dead, and thousands more arrested, beaten, tortured and jailed.

The moment was the closest Burma, also known as Myanmar, has come to a political meltdown since the military junta took over in 1962, and established a one-party state. When they saw power slipping from their hands, the generals struck back with desperate force.

But the uprising was the culmination of years of public anger. Resource-rich Burma's economy had spiralled downward under Ne Win's policy of isolation and iron-fisted socialism. Humiliatingly, it was named a least developed nation by the United Nations.

In 1987, Burma hit rock bottom when the superstitious general made 80 per cent of the country's currency worthless by cancelling some denominations of bills – on the advice of his astrologer. By spring of 1988, many had lost their life savings, and the country was in turmoil.

Rage burst out on the street, with protests led by students from high schools and universities. And as the rains of spring led to a sizzling summer of demonstrations and government violence, the scene was set for a dramatic confrontation.

For months, the students had faced off with government forces which reacted with overwhelming force. Beatings, arrests, rapes and deaths failed to deter them.

On Aug. 8 – known forever afterward here as 8-8-88 – hundreds of thousands of people converged in Burmese cities, demanding a change in government.

In Rangoon, Maung Htoo – now executive director of Canadian Friends of Burma – watched with horror as young protesters fell in front of him, their blood staining the pavements.

As gunshots crackled, the crowds chanted "we want democracy."

"It looked as though the whole country had turned out," Maung Htoo said. "The feeling was overwhelming. Soldiers surrounded everywhere the protests went, and they had guns and bayonets. People were confused, but they were ready for revolution."

For most of the day, the demonstrators and military played "cat and mouse" in the tangled streets of Rangoon, also called Yangon, and shots were fired in the air. By evening, they hoped the soldiers had come over to their side, and the junta would give way to their demands.

It was a flimsy hope. Back in March, Maung Htoo had gathered with activist friends to exchange news of ongoing demonstrations. To their shock, a crackdown on the elite Rangoon Institute of Technology sent some students to hospital, others to jail. Those who were captured were treated with brutality. On Aug. 8, and successive days, worse was to come.

"Around 6 p.m. we were given a warning (by they army). They said `within five minutes you must go.' The students went on singing and chanting, and they asked the soldiers not to advance. They said `you are our soldiers, and you are not supposed to do this to us,'" Maung Htoo recalls.

Near Rangoon's city hall, the soldiers responded to the plea. But before midnight when the guard changed, the truce was shattered. By dawn, dozens, perhaps hundreds of demonstrators had died.

But the junta was undergoing its own internal crisis. As anger over the economy spread, Ne Win had announced that private enterprise would be legalized and ordinary people could export rice.

Barriers to foreign aid were lowered. A civilian prime minister, Maung Maung, was briefly appointed, and he promised multi-party elections. But calls for national unity were ignored, and clashes escalated as the students sensed that "full democracy" was within their grasp.

A month before the August uprising, Ne Win, who had retained most of the power as chairman of the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party, stepped down. But he remained close to the reins of power.

The August protest touched off further demonstrations and bloody reprisals. As they continued into September, and anarchy threatened, Ne Win reportedly summoned Saw Maung, a loyal general, to carry out a coup and declare martial law. Mass arrests, jailings and summary execution of protesters followed the Sept. 18 declaration.

It was the beginning of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, known as Burma's infamous SLORC. Satisfied that they had regained power, the military leaders allowed a brief flirtation with democracy – the formation of new political parties and a May 1990 election that gave Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy a landslide victory.

But it proved a temporary detour from dictatorship. Suu Kyi was imprisoned and Burma's long winter of discontent set in. It's a chill that has never thawed, through monk-led demonstrations that began last year, a record-setting cyclone and attempts at UN mediation between Suu Kyi and the junta.

"There was a lot more hope and optimism in 1988," says Bertil Lintner, whose book Outrage: Burma's Struggle for Democracy chronicled the uprising, its history and aftermath. "But after the brutal crackdown, and the fact that the military ignored the outcome of the 1990 election, then cracked down on the monks in 1990 as well as 2007, most people seem to have given up hope."

Maung Htoo agrees that hope for change has been dampened in the past year. But anger is on the rise.

"Because of the cyclone, it's mounting and gathering momentum. The Burmese people tolerate many things. But they will not tolerate them forever."


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