Authorities in military-run Myanmar detained dozens of opposition party members yesterday as they returned from ceremonies marking the death of the father of jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, witnesses said.
The arrests came after riot police set up barricades around the Martyrs’ Mausoleum where the official ceremony took place to commemorate the death of General Aung San, the country’s independence hero.
At least 50 members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party were walking in small groups when they were arrested, witnesses said on condition of anonymity for fear of official reprisal.
It was not immediately clear why police detained them.
Some of the NLD members had been attending a ceremony at party headquarters to mark General Aung San’s death 62 years ago, while others had been at the official commemoration.
“Some members were roughly taken into trucks, and those who ran away were chased,” a witness said.
Some who ran onto public buses were dragged out and taken away.
General Aung San and other government leaders were assassinated by gunmen during a Cabinet meeting on July 19, 1947, shortly after Britain granted independence to the Southeast Asian colony.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi marked the anniversary of her father’s death inside Yangon’s Insein prison. She is on trial on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest by giving shelter to an uninvited American man who swam to her lakeside home in May.
If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison. Her trial is to resume on Friday.
Earlier yesterday, hundreds of riot police erected barricades secured with barbed wire and blocked streets leading to the Martyrs’ Mausoleum. More than two dozen trucks carrying riot police and four prison vans were parked near the monument, located near the famed Shwedagon pagoda.
Flags were flown at half-staff at the mausoleum as officials placed flowers at the tomb, and families of the slain leaders joined the tightly guarded wreath-laying ceremony.
Suu Kyi, 64, who used to attend the official ceremony, was absent for a sixth consecutive year and instead marked the day by donating food to patients at the hospital inside the prison, said Nyan Win, a spokesman for her party.
Martyrs’ Day was an important event on Myanmar’s calendar for years, but has been gradually downgraded as Suu Kyi has become more popular, particularly since a 1988 pro-democracy uprising that was crushed by the junta.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.
Suu Kyi has been under detention for 14 of the past 20 years. Her opposition party won national elections in 1990, but Myanmar’s generals refused to relinquish power.
Her trial has drawn condemnation from the international community and her supporters within Myanmar, who worry that the ruling junta has found an excuse to keep her detained through elections planned for next year.
Myanmar is likely to face renewed pressure over its trial of Aung San Suu Kyi when foreign ministers and diplomats from Asia, Washington and Europe meet this week.
The ruling junta has defied international outrage about her trial and dealt a humiliating snub to UN chief Ban Ki-moon by refusing to allow him to visit the opposition figurehead when he visited the country earlier this month.