Burma marks 1988 pro-democracy uprising anniversary

Thousands of veterans have returned to Rangoon to mark the anniversary

Public commemorations have taken place in Burma to mark the 25th anniversary of the uprisings which launched the country's pro-democracy movement.

It was the first time the anniversary has been openly commemorated in Rangoon, also known as Yangon.

Hundreds of thousands took part in the protests, which began on 8 August 1988.

But six weeks later at least 3,000 protesters were dead, thousands more were jailed and the military was firmly back in control.

During the 1988 protests, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as the leader of the pro-democracy movement in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Analysis

The crowds attending the Myanmar Convention Centre were a strange mixture; former student leaders, now middle aged, some wearing the scars of years in prison, in earnest debate.

And there were families celebrating an uprising 25 years ago in which Burmese from all walks of life took part.

They also came for a glimpse of The Lady. Aung San Suu Kyi draws crowds like no-one else, and was the keynote speaker at this commemoration.

She was careful, though, to acknowledge that she was not the heroine of the original revolt against military rule; at the start she was not even involved.

This event, with its speeches, rousing music and unprecedented photo exhibits chronicling the uprising and its brutal suppression, was to honour the extraordinarily brave young men and women who rose up against the military.

The parents of some of those who died were there today, proudly holding faded monochrome photographs of children cut down by military bullets.

And for all the talk of reconciliation, the desire, even in some of those who suffered most, to work with the reformist but military-backed government, it was hard to ignore the fact that no-one has ever been brought to justice for those mass killings 25 years ago.

Ms Suu Kyi, who is now the opposition leader, gave a speech as part of the commemorations.

She arrived to applause and on taking the stage told the audience that in 1988 they had "wanted to build a democratic nation - and this purpose is still not changed and will never be changed".

Paying tribute to the young students who led the demonstrations, she said it was time for Burma to move on.

"Whatever we do we must not take grudges against each other. We will have to heal the wounds the country suffered by showing love and compassion."

'Tacit approval'

Photo exhibitions and performances in mock prison cells were organised to depict events during the uprising and the crackdown that followed.

On Thursday, a small group of activists marched through Rangoon and laid wreaths to honour those who died in the protests, ignoring police orders that they stop.

The marchers did not have official permission to demonstrate in the streets, but police allowed them to continue, taking pictures of those involved, AFP news agency reported.

Win Min, a former student protestor, told AFP that the crackdown was "the worst and most unforgettable [scene] of my life".

"We want to show our sorrow for the dead today and to show them we are moving forward to the goal of democracy... we promised them we would continue," he said.

A ceremony attended by several thousand people, including political leaders, was held at a convention centre in Rangoon.

Aung San Suu Kyi at the public commemorations Aung San Kyi paid tribute to the young people who led the demonstrations

The current reformist government has tacitly approved this memorial, even though some of the former generals serving in it are implicated in the violence, the BBC's Jonathan Head reports from Rangoon.

A nominally civilian government took power in Burma after elections in November 2010 that ended military rule.

The new administration, led by President Thein Sein, has introduced a series of political and economic reforms, including the release of many political prisoners and the easing of media censorship.

Most sanctions against Burma have now been relaxed in response to the changes.

Commenting on the anniversary, UK foreign office minister Hugo Swire said: "This anniversary is a chance to remember all those who have struggled for greater democracy in Burma, in particular the many who lost their lives in 1988 or spent years in prison because of their beliefs."

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