Demonstrators in cities across Europe and Asia joined Saturday in protests against the military junta in Myanmar, where some activists held covert vigils for those killed and arrested in the crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrations.
Hoping to send Myanmar’s ruling military generals a message that “the world is still watching,” rights group Amnesty International organized marches in more than two dozen Asian, European and North American cities.
Some observers predicted the protests would have minimal effect on an inward-looking military elite that has largely ignored world opinion and pressure during its 45 years in power.
There were no visible demonstrations in Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon, where bans on gatherings of more than five people are enforced by soldiers, but some in the city and elsewhere in the country prayed in their homes at the suggestion of a Buddhist monk interviewed by Radio Free Asia’s Myanmar-language service.
The military has acknowledged detaining hundreds of Buddhist monks — who are revered in the deeply religious nation and spearheaded the mass demonstrations — and the party of the detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Saturday that 210 of its members were arrested during the crackdown.
Call for new sanctions
Before demonstrations began in London, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for new European Union sanctions against the junta, including a ban on future investment in the country, which is also known as Burma.
“The anger of the world has been expressed about the outrages that have taken place against the people of Burma,” Brown said during a televised meeting with Buddhist monks gathered in his 10 Downing St. office.
Myanmar monks scattered flower petals in London’s River Thames and led about 3,000 people — some chanting “Burma, Burma, Free, Free” to a rally in Trafalgar Square, where Amnesty International’s chief Irene Khan declared, “Burma is not a human rights emergency of today, last week or last month. It is a human rights emergency that the world has chosen to forget for the last 20 years. We will not forget this time round, we will not let the people of Burma down.”
The international day of protest began in Melbourne, Australia, where 200 people marched behind a banner demanding “No More Bloodshed.” In Sydney, some 200 marchers dressed in colorful clothes to show their support for what some are calling the “saffron revolution” after the Myanmar monks’ robes.
In Taipei, hundreds braved a strong typhoon to demand action from the international community. Smaller crowds turned out in Bangkok and Manila. In Malaysia’s biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, 300 people attended a candlelight vigil Friday evening.
In Paris, French police blocked several hundred protesters, including monks, from marching on the Chinese Embassy in Paris. The crowd stood in front of the adjacent embassy.
“China has the biggest investments there. Therefore, we would like to go on bended knees and ask them to do something because they are so powerful there,” French-British actress Jane Birkin told AP Television News. Birkin has been a leading activist in France against the Myanmar regime.
Reform ‘must happen from inside’
International condemnation of the junta intensified at the United Nations, with the U.S. warning it would push for U.N. sanctions against Myanmar if it fails to respond to the world’s demands for democratic reforms.
But Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win told the U.N. General Assembly last week that democracy “cannot be imposed from outside” and demonstrators at recent pro-government rallies have carried placards saying “Oppose external interference.”
“International public opinion is not enough. It hasn’t been as effective as we had hoped. There is hope now that (opposition) is stirring inside the country. It must happen from inside the country, with pressure from outside,” said Asda Jayanama, a former Thai diplomat active who watches Myanmar.
Demonstrations that began in mid-August over a sharp fuel price increase swelled into Myanmar’s largest anti-government protests in 19 years. The government says 10 people were killed in the subsequent crackdown but dissident groups put the death toll at more than 200.