Going to lunch before going to protest? Oh, those symbolic pictures… (JRodriguez)
Up to 100,000 Burmese people, led by Buddhist monks, have taken it to the streets in Myanmar’s capital Rangoon (Yangon) today, continuing their protests against the military junta.
This fuels new hopes for a “saffron revolution”, but also leaves observers wondering why the military hasn’t been quick to react. Diplomatic sources say China has put pressure on the government to avoid a violent conflict. This would make sense, as China recently has been more aware of its task to promote a better image ahead of the 2008 Olympics.
So what might the perspectives be? With the UN general assembly to meet this week, a violent suppression seems unlikely, yet not impossible (as in 1988, much bigger protests were violently silenced, leaving 3,000 people dead). Loosening the house arrest of Nobel laureate and opposition figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi could mean calming the anger, but also raising the wish for democracy in the country. Taking back the price increases for food and fuel may have been an option a couple of weeks ago – but now the movement’s demands have grown much bigger (their chant “Do-aye”, “it’s our task”was also used in the democracy protests in 1988).
Though an attack on monks might escalate the situation, it cannot be ruled out the military junta takes this step. If the situation becomes calmer because of an official agreement to negotiate about changes, silent abductions of leading protesters might be likely. There are also reports about a PR-offensive to discredit the monks as well as efforts to intimidate journalists (though officially there are no foreign journalists in the country) underway.
The current demonstrations have not yet cast a light on the European Union’s dealings with Myanmar: Compared to the complete trade-stop signed by the American president in 2003, the European Union has been pursuing a laxer policy over the last years, leaving some loopholes for international companies. This is, as critics argue, empowering European-American joint-ventures like that of Total and Chevron to exploit the country’s gas and oil-reserves.
(For in-depth reading on the situation, I recommend fifty viss)