Myanmar's junta has detained at least 65 activists who protested fuel-price hikes, a state-controlled newspaper and witnesses reported, including two arrested yesterday as they were about to launch a fresh demonstration.
The New Light of Myanmar said 13 of those arrested on Tuesday from the prominent pro-democracy 88 Generation Students group "are being interrogated" for allegedly undermining the government, colluding with insurgent groups and harming the community peace. If charged, the activists face up to 20 years in jail.
Members of the 88 Generation Students were at the forefront of a pro-democracy uprising in 1988 and were imprisoned and tortured after the military brutally suppressed the rebellion.
Of the more than 50 others, witnesses said two were arrested yesterday as they were about to hold a protest at a busy intersection in the country's largest city, Yangon.
One of those arrested yesterday was Htin Kyaw, the 44-year-old leader of the pro-democracy group Myanmar Development Committee. He has repeatedly been arrested in the past for organizing protests over the country's dire economy, most recently in April.
Of the more than 50 others, the newspaper said eight people were arrested in the country's largest city Yangon as they marched in an anti-government protest on Wednesday. The rest were picked up in the same city on Thursday and Friday ahead of other planned rallies.
People in impoverished Myanmar are angry at the military government's decision to double fuel prices at state-owned gas stations earlier this month.
Yangon was quiet yesterday, with pro-junta supporters and plain-clothes police deployed throughout the city to prevent further protests. Trucks stood ready to take demonstrators away.
Nyan Win, a spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy party, said yesterday the eight demonstrators detained on Wednesday had been released, but that the fate of the others was unknown.
Peaceful protests have been taking place since last Sunday, mainly in Yangon. No new protests were reported early yesterday.
The junta quickly broke up burgeoning protests on Friday, but the defiant demonstrators could claim a partial victory after the government ordered some bus companies to lower fares that were raised because of the higher fuel prices.
Myanmar's ruling junta has been widely criticized for human rights violations, including the extended detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 1,200 other political prisoners.
The US, France, Britain and several international human rights groups have called on the junta to ease its repressive activities and free political prisoners.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Myanmar's government to exercise restraint in its response to the demonstrations.
Economic frustration sparked the country's last major upheaval in 1988 when mass demonstrations broke out seeking an end to the military rule that began in 1962.
The protests were violently subdued with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people killed.
The current protests are nowhere near the scale of the 1988 events, but the junta appeared to be taking no chances in trying to clamp down on the protests.
The military rulers held a general election in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won in a landslide.