Burmese students defy the military

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The Independent Online
STUDENT PROTESTS erupted in the Burmese capital Rangoon yesterday for the first time since 1996. The demonstration outside Rangoon University was an act of defiance at a time when the military is on full alert to thwart pro-democracy activity.

As the protest was broken up by baton-wielding soldiers, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel prize winner and opposition leader, ended her stand-off with the authorities at a tiny bridge at Anyarsu. She and three colleagues had camped in a minivan for 12 days on the bridge, 20 miles from the capital, after attempting to leave Rangoon to see members of her party.

It was not known last night whether Ms Suu Kyi had been forced to return to Rangoon or whether she ended the protest voluntarily. Members of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), had issued a statement urging her to return. The military ended her previous attempt to leave the capital by force, after she was deprived of food and water for six days at the same location.

On this occasion the democracy leader had sufficient supplies of food and water, though she has been suffering problems with her kidneys and has a mild form of jaundice.

The student protest, supported by the NLD, consisted of some 150 demonstrators chanting pro-democracy slogans at a road junction close to the university's main entrance.

Protesters called for an end to the military government and for the convening of a parliament elected in 1990 when the NLD's landslide victory at the polls was ignored by the junta.

The authorities allowed the demonstration to continue for just over an hour before soldiers charged. Protesters and onlookers dispersed, fearing a repetition of the brutal ending of the 1996 protests and the massacre which followed the 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

The authorities have been on alert for the past few days because of fears that demonstrations would mark the 10th anniversary of the 1988 massacre and because the NLD set a deadline last Friday for the recovering of the elected parliament.

Ms Suu Kyi may well have returned to take part in a symbolic recall of parliament planned by the NLD which is supposed to take place in "the next few days". Members of other parties and representatives of Burma's many ethnic groups are believed to have been holding talks with the NLD on the parliament.

Two NLD representatives held a meeting with Tin Hliang, the minister of home affairs yesterday. This follows meetings at a more senior level, and, to date, represents the junta's sole concession to opposition pressure.

Mounting international pressure on the junta is making little impression on the regime. However, the economic situation is deteriorating fast and there are no signs that the government has a strategy for reviving the economy.

A Myanmar Airways internal flight disappeared yesterday while en route from Rangoon to Tachilek, near the Tahi border. The Fokker F27 plane was carrying 39 passengers and 4 crew when contact was lost.