On Saturday, as officials gathered to commemorate the shooting death, 61 years ago, of the father of the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (photo, from bbc.co.uk), hundreds of riot police and soldiers ringed a monument in downtown Yangon, Myanmar (also known as Burma).
On July 19, 1947, during a Cabinet meeting, the country independence hero, Gen. Aung San, and other government leader were assassinated by gunmen. It happened shortly after Britain granted independence to the Southeast Asian colony.
In order to mark the day, a state holiday, flags were flown at half staff in the capital. But unlike past years, foreign diplomats were not invited to the tightly guarded wreath-laying ceremony at the Martyr’s Monument located near the famed Shwedagon pagoda.
While Aung San’s daughter remains under house arrest, opposition activists have suggested that the ruling junta is trying to downgrade the importance of his legacy, aiming at undercutting the popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi.
But the Foreign Ministry has informed the diplomats in Yangon that there will be a low-key ceremony this year, as a will of the government, because it comes just two and a half months after Cyclone Nargis devastated much of the region south of Yangon, leaving at least 85,000 people dead and about 50,000 missing.
Heavy metal barriers and coils of barbed wire have been put up across roads by police, cordoned off the monument. Carrying assault rifles and shotguns, dozens of policemen manned the barricades during a heavy downpour.
Detained for more than 12 years
And around the headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Ms Suu Kyi’s political party, security was also tight, as it said it would hold a separate ceremony.
The junta has been urged to “immediately and unconditionally” release Ms Suu Kyi and other detained pro-democracy activists, in a statement from the NLD.
For more than 12 of the past 18 years, Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained. And since 1962, Myanmar has been under military rule.
In 1990, though Ms Suu Kyi’s party swept the last general elections, the military refused to hand over power.
Since the junta violently quashed peaceful mass protests last September, in which at least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained, the international community has increased pressure.