Burma on Thursday honored opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, independence hero General Aung San, with the highest-level memorial ceremony for him in decades broadcast on state television.
Vice President Sai Mauk Kham led a tribute to the general and eight other independence leaders at the Martyrs' Mausoleum by the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. It was a higher-profile ceremony than the one last year officiated by the city's mayor.
Flags flew at half staff as the nation commemorated the 65th anniversary of the leaders’ assassination by a rival political group on July 19, 1947, six months before the country’s independence from British colonial rule.
Thursday’s ceremony marked the second Martyrs’ Day national holiday since Burma’s military junta stepped down and was replaced by a nominally civilian government two years ago.
For the past two decades, the government had played down anniversaries associated with General Aung San, considered the father of modern Burma, largely because of his daughter’s popularity.
But on Thursday, the vice president joined Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest in 2010 and elected to parliament in April, in laying baskets of flowers at her father’s tomb.
Nay Myo Zin, an army captain-turned-activist and former political prisoner, said the atmosphere at the mausoleum was less restrictive than on Martyrs’ Days in years past.
“I was very delighted when I arrived at the mausoleum today,” he said.
“Five years ago there was barbed wire in front of the mausoleum and armed authorities checked everybody who came there to pay their respects, asking their names, their father's names, their addresses, etc. But this year, there is only a light security check.”
He said the tone of relations between security guards in the area and the people had changed.
“The most delightful fact is that the security personnel five years ago had rude and cruel faces, but today every security personnel member I see has a smiling face, showing that they represent the same walks of life as the ordinary people.”
Ceremonies were held for the first time in towns across the country, including one in the capital Naypyidaw attended by opposition party members.
Activists welcomed the move to hold the official celebrations, saying it was a sign of how much the country had opened up since the military junta stepped down two years ago.
“We are pleased with [the way authorities allowed] today's ceremony because all the people could freely pay homage to the martyrs without any restrictions today. It must be honored as this is a time when our country is going through the reform process,” Mee Mee, an activist from the pro-democracy 88 Generation Students group said.
She said celebrating the day was in tune with the wishes of the people.
“We should not be afraid of the people and should work hand in hand with the people. Only then will our country become a peaceful, prosperous, and genuinely democratic country.”
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Thein Aung. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.