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Freed Dissident Calls For Interim Gov’t In Burma

August 25, 1988

RANGOON, Burma (AP) _ The government today freed the country’s most outspoken dissident, and within hours he demanded before a crowd of 200,000 people an interim government to lead Burma back to democracy.

State run radio said the government freed nearly 1,700 people arrested in riots during the 17-day rule of Sein Lwin, who resigned Aug. 12 as president after hundreds of thousands protested across the country.

More than 400,000 people marched through the streets of the capital today demanding immediate democracy, an Asian diplomat said by telephone. Diplomats said as many as 1 million people marched in the city on Wednesday.

Civilian President Maung Maung on Wednesday lifted martial law in the capital, ended curfews and called for a referendum on multiparty democracy in this isolated Asian nation. For 26 years, Burma was under rigid one-party rule that turned it into one of the world’s poorest countries.

Official Radio Rangoon said 1,683 protesters were released from Insein Jail today. It said all others arrested nationwide since Aug. 3 in connection with the rioting would be freed except those accused of serious crimes. Martial law was imposed Aug. 3 in Rangoon.

Those freed today included 442 students, 78 government employees and 27 Buddhist monks, the radio said. The release brought to more than 2,500 the number the government has freed. It was not known how many remain jailed.

Dissident Aung Gyi was among 10 people, including this correspondent, arrested during raids July 29 and July 30 and also freed today. The official News Agency of Burma earlier said they were held for ″attacking the state.″

Aung Gyi told the outdoor rally in Rangoon today, ″We have complete trust in President Maung Maung and Chairman of the Council of People’s Justice Tin Aung Hein.″ Maung Maung, in power for only a week, is the country’s first civilian leader since 1962. Aung Hein also is a civilian.

But Aung Gyi added: ″I demand Maung Maung and Tin Aung form an interim government immediately to avoid anarchy and bloodshed in the country.″

″We agree 3/8″ the crowd shouted back.

This correspondent, on the drive home from Insein Jail, saw people freely shouting for democracy for the first time in 26 years.

People of all ages, wearing red headbands symbolizing defiance, rode in open trucks around the capital shouting, ″Give us democracy immediately 3/8″ Banners hung across the roads said: ″We want democracy 3/8 We want a multiparty system 3/8″

No newspapers were available because workers at all six government-approved dailies were on strike to demand democracy and press freedom.

Government ministries were open, but no senior officials were at their desks and the few junior employees on hand appeared to be doing little work.

Many local government offices in Rangoon earlier were ransacked by mobs and were deserted today.

After word of the releases spread, a crowd of well-wishers surrounded Aung Gyi’s home. Aung Gyi, a former army brigadier who sided with former leader Ne Win before they split over differences in economic policy, quickly began planning for a mass meeting at his home.

The release of the 10 detainees was unconditional.

Maung Maung said Wednesday the 1,000-member congress of the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party would meet in emergency session to consider popular demands for an end to authoritarian rule.

State-run Radio Rangoon said the session would be Sept. 12.

Maung Maung’s government also has freed more than 700 people arrested during four days of riots that ended Aug. 12 with the toppling of Sein Lwin.

At least 112 people were killed in the unrest, many of them fired upon by troops as they protested peacefully.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International, the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon and other organizations had called for their release.

In a speech broadcast by Radio Rangoon on Wednesday, Maung Maung said he would ask an emergency party congress to consider the referendum on ending one-party rule.

He said if the congress refuses, the 15-member Central Executive Committee - which includes himself - would resign from the party. If the congress agrees to a referendum, arrangements would immediately be made for the vote, he added.

If the people choose a multiparty system, ″general elections will be held as soon as possible″ and no top government members will be candidates, Maung Maung said.

Ne Win led the 1962 coup that toppled an elected government and began the rule of the Burma Socialist Program Party. The former general outlawed all other parties in 1964 and began the rigid socialist and isolationist policies that turned Burma, one of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest nations, into one of the world’s poorest.

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