The Burmese government has abruptly changed tack on its all-inclusive Martyrs’ Day celebrations this year and ordered two separate commemorations: one for the junta, one for new political parties.
Invitations had been sent by Naypyidaw to Rangoon-based parties to attend the annual event, which marks the assassination of Aung San, Burma’s independence hero and father of opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi. His and six other independence leaders’ murder on this day in 1947 was planned by a rival political group, who were later executed.
Government officials had asked those attending today to submit their wreaths for inspection on 16 July, as well as sending a list of people attending. They were told to be ready at Pakokku Monastery, close to Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Rangoon, at 8.30am this morning for the start of proceedings.
But when the groups arrived, it became clear that the candidates eyeing a seat in parliament this year would not be allowed to join the ruling generals at the ceremony. “When we showed up at the monastery at 8:30am this morning, it turned out…that we could only pay respect to the hero at 10am [after the government commemoration],” said Phyo Min Thein, head of the Union Democratic Party.
In the end, 16 parties were given permission to attend the event. Aung Zaw Oo, from the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics, said that each party was allowed to send only seven people to Pakokku Monastery.
Another attendee, Hla Myint of the Union Democracy Party, said that party flags were banned from the event, while the confiscation of cameras, pens and watches meant “there wasn’t much freedom with the event”.
Security has been beefed up in Rangoon, particular around Maryrs’ Hill and the iconic Shwedagon pagoda, which has traditionally acted as a rallying point for political activity.
A Rangoon resident said that there were “small groups of two to five armed guards placed between every electricity pole” along the road leading to Martyrs’ Hill. A source close to the government’s foreign affairs ministry said that riot police were deployed along with combat police and troops.
“The Shwedagon pagoda’s western gate has been fortified with barbwires and the right lane of the gate entrance was also shut down,” he said. “Also, there are blue curtains [similar to makeshift interrogation rooms at the Rangoon airport] being put up near Thwaysaykan lake at the northern vicinity of the pagoda.”
Sources in Rangoon said that authorities have set up checkpoints on roads to inspect vehicles, whilst making surprise checks for guest registration in the city. Any individual who spends a night outside of his or her registered ward is required to lodge the stay with local authorities prior to going.