Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is tireless in her efforts to bring democracy to her homeland, and on Monday she continued to poke the tiger that is Myanmar's ruling military junta.
The pro-democracy icon led hundreds in a demonstration at a Yangon monastery to commemorate the anniversary of the 1988 uprising that first put Suu Kyi at the forefront of the opposition's call for democratic change, according to The Irrawaddy news magazine.
Several news outlets reported that authorities kept a close eye on the demonstrations but did not harass protesters despite the government's repeated warning to Suu Kyi that she should refrain from political activities. Voice of America reported that Suu Kyi will make a trip to Bago, about 50 miles northeast of Yangon, this weekend to attend the opening of two libraries and to meet with political network groups.
Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, a leader of the opposition Democratic Party, told The Irrawaddy magazine, “Without democracy in our country, we will work on together under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.”
The protesters held a one-minute moment of silence for the estimated 3,000 people killed when Myanmar's army, which staged a coup in September 1988, attacked student-led demonstrators peacefully marching in urban areas to protest the economy and currency devaluation, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma. (Myanmar is also known as Burma.) Opposition groups say about 2,000 student leaders of the movement remain political prisoners.
“The 8888 uprising is the event that spread talk of democracy across the country, and was joined by all members of the public, including students and monks," said Than Aung, a member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, using the popular shorthand for the August 8, 1988, demonstrations. "After 23 years, the desires of our fallen comrades who sacrificed their lives has not been fulfilled." Aung attended a protest event in Yaynanchaung township, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported.
At the gathering in Yangon, Suu Kyi called for unity among the nation's opposition groups, the magazine reported. Despite drafting a new constitution in 2008 – a document Suu Kyi opposes – Myanmar is run by a nominally civilian government belonging largely to the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.
Human rights groups used Monday's protests to call for the United Nations to establish a commission that would investigate alleged crimes against humanity by Myanmar's rulers. Fifteen countries – including the United States, Canada and much of Europe – have spoken in support of such a commission, VOA reported.
Suu Kyi has spent most of the last two decades in some form of detention. In November, Myanmar's government released her from house arrest to a throng of supporters who rushed to her lakeside Yangon home after the gates were opened.
"I'm very happy to see you all again," she said after being hidden from the public eye for so long.
Since then, she has hardly shied away from the political statements that have put her at odds with the military government.
She has called for a new military mentality and for the people of Myanmar to be empowered. She urged business and political leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, not to forget Myanmar as they rebuild the global economy.
In June via video link, she addressed U.S. lawmakers for the first time, asking Congress to help enforce a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution calling for political reconciliation, judicial independence, freedom of speech and the release of certain political prisoners, among other things.
Despite her remarks that have riled the government, Suu Kyi met this month with Labor Minister Aung Kyi in an exchange both parties called "positive," according to The Guardian. The British newspaper said the meeting was seen as a sign that the government was eager to improve its international image.
The government has gone to lengths to marginalize Suu Kyi in the past, as her lengthy house arrests can attest. In 2007, the government went so far as to order the entire population, including city dwellers, to grow physic nut, aka Jatropha Curcas, which has limited commercial. According to The Irrawaddy, observers said the mandate came at the behest of President Than Shwe's astrologer, who suggested that planting nut – known in Burmese as kyet suu, the astrological opposite of Suu Kyi – could neutralize the pro-democracy icon.