WASHINGTON—At least 24 more people have been detained in Burma after a third day of protests over a sudden spike in fuel prices. The protests spread north from the capital despite a cut in bus fares apparently aimed at quelling public unrest.
According to eyewitnesses, some 78 protesters—mostly women affiliated with the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)—started out with a walk toward NLD party headquarters in Bahan township.
As they neared Shwegondine junction, a block from the NLD offices, a group of government-sponsored thugs from the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) joined local officials in stopping the march.
“The officials didn’t just stop us—they cursed at us, grabbed some of us, and threw people into trucks. We decided to sit on the pavement and hold one another's arms as a human chain to prevent our arrest,” Yin Mar Htun, a female protester, said in an interview.
Witnesses said at least 20 people were taken into custody. “Many of my detained colleagues were beaten and slapped repeatedly...Some women activists struggled to resist [having] their sarongs being roughly removed by the…mob,” Aung Htun, an NLD member who joined the protest Thursday, said.
USDA thugs also targeted journalists—including foreign correspondents—and bystanders, the witnesses said.
This was the third protest, rare in isolated and military-run Burma, in less than a week. Burmese monks meanwhile staged a second day of protests against tightening curbs on monasteries.
“One angry bystander shouted at the government mob to stop abusing us once he saw the assault on us. The thugs rushed to him and hit him repeatedly. Then he was shoved into the car,” Ni Mo Hlaing, a female protester who also suffered several blows, said.
“I don't even remember how many times I was beaten. The only thing I heard was ‘Hit that bitch! Hit that bitch!’ from the plainclothes security officials. My clothes were torn, my watch broken, my umbrella and sandals were lost there.”
The protest broke up after about an hour, witnesses said.
In Dagon, a satellite township of Rangoon, another 20 protesters were attacked. They included a 70-year-old woman, who, along with two others, was shoved into a car and taken into custody, witnesses said.
Former opposition political prisoner Ohn Than later staged a solo protest outside the U.S. Consulate in Rangoon calling for political reform and was detained after 10 minutes.
The protests continued despite a cut in bus fares from 150 to 50 kyat, apparently aimed at quelling unrest.
According to a banned group of Buddhist monks, some 200 monks from Kabar Aye Sangha University staged a protest in Rangoon for a second day despite ongoing talks between the monks and university authorities.
"We will organize massive participation of Buddhist monks around the country unless the government addresses our concerns,” said one leading Buddhist monk who asked not to be identified. “We know that there is a growing crisis in the country and the government should resolve this problem according to the Buddha's teachings, instead of using military might and violence.”
A day earlier, witnesses said eight activists who led the Aug. 22 march were taken into custody, questioned, and released five hours later. They included women’s group leaders Naw Ohn Hla and Pyu Pyu Thinn, along with six others.
On Sunday, leading dissident Min Ko Naing led a similar protest and was later arrested along with 12 others. They include Ko Ko Gyi, Min Zeya, Ko Jimmy, Ko Pyone Cho, Arnt Bwe Kyaw, and Ko Mya Aye. All 13 remain in custody and face accusations of “agitation to cause civil unrest,” which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Min Ko Naing has already spent 16 years in prison in Burma, where he was tortured.
Burma's official media have described the protests as "agitation to cause civil unrest aimed at undermining peace and security of the State and disrupting the ongoing National Convention."
The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), led by the Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has warned of escalating protests.
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 12 of the past 19 years under house arrest. Her party won 1990 elections by a wide margin but has never been permitted to take power.
Original reporting for RFA's Burmese service by Khin Maung Soe, Tin Aung Khine, Zaw Moe Kyaw, and Aung San Myint. Translated and edited by Min Zin. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.