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Washington D.C. - Radio Free Asia's (RFA) Lao service reports that the Lao government has crushed an unusual pro-democracy demonstration in the southern part of Laos. The demonstration, which took place on November 17 in the district of Xanasomboun in Champassak Province, was the second of its kind to occur since the communists took power in May, 1975. More than two hundred people gathered in an attempt to demonstrate against the Lao government and call for democracy. Students and government employees led the group. According to an RFA report from Thailand, the Lao police surrounded and apprehended the group, and seized one video recorder, two cameras, four Lao flags from the pre-communist regime, more than 250 flyers, and numerous banners. The demonstrators had planned to march to the nearby province capital of Pakse. Fifteen people were arrested, including the four young men who were the key leaders: Phommachanh, Savath Khanthong, Vixien Bouaphanh, and Bounma Thavixay. Student organizer Nouamkham Khamphilavong led the first Lao pro-democracy demonstration in Vientiane on October 26, 1999 during the boat race that is part of Laos' annual water festival. The group had planned a demonstration in the Laotian capital against a backdrop of growing local grievances over a variety of issues, including high inflation that has sharply reduced the income of civil servants and teachers. The group had organized several hundred demonstrators, mostly teachers and students, who were to read out their demands in the center of Vientiane. The plan leaked to the authorities and the Lao secret police arrested many of the demonstrators, but not before some unfurled their banners. A number of the demonstrators escaped to Thailand. RFA's Lao service interviewed Nouamkham Khamphilavong after she and the other leaders of the failed October 26, 1999 demonstration arrived in the United States on the first anniversary of their protest. The Lao government denied any such demonstration had occurred, and the state-controlled media has failed to report on the second demonstration in Champassak Province. Radio Free Asia is a private corporation, established in 1996 to provide news and information to listeners in China, Tibet, Vietnam, Burma, North Korea, Laos and Cambodia. It is funded by grants from Congress. RFA's mission is to be a forum for a variety of opinions and voices from within Asian nations whose people do not have full freedom of expression. Listener confidence in the quality and credibility of its broadcasts is RFA's highest priority. RFA is a journalistically independent organization whose autonomy is key to providing objective domestic news and information.


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