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Burma’s president helps fund ’88 24th anniversary event

Burma’s President Thein Sein personally sent two cabinet minister to hand over a check to a former political prisoner to help fund a 24th anniversary commemoration event of the 1988 protest movement held in Mandalay on Wednesday.

Burma's President Thein Sein Photo: President's officeKo Ko Gyi, a prominent leader of the 1988 protest movement, said it was as if the newly elected government was also participating in the anniversary commemoration.

“I feel like this is a step toward reform,” he told The Associated Press. The ministers gave the 88-Student group a check for more than US$ 1,000.

Presidential spokesman Nay Zin Latt said the government recognized the anniversary as a “historic event” and the president wanted to show his sincerity about achieving national reconciliation.

“The president always talks about national reconciliation,” the spokesman said. “This action can help build better mutual understanding.”

Ko Ko Gyi, who spent years in prison following the bloody crackdown on the 1988 uprising, said the gathering called on the government to recognize the anniversary as a national “Day of Democracy” and demanded that the 88 Generation student leaders be allowed to take part in the country’s reform process, according to an article on the Radio Free Asia website on Thursday.

“After 24 years, we 88 Generation members must be part of the political transition in Burma,” he said.

Min Ko Naing, another 88 Generation student who was jailed in the aftermath of the 1988 military action that left as many as 3,000 people dead, according to some accounts, said the group’s focus was as sharp as ever, despite many of its leaders having spent decades in prison.

“Many 88 Generation students were sent to prison in different locations and their family life was disrupted by that. Many of our lives were thrown into disorder by this prison experience, but we never gave up, even though we were undergoing such harsh measures,” he said.

A similar anniversary event was also held in Rangoon and other areas of the country.

The demonstration that started on August 8, 1988, was a nationwide popular uprising known as the People Power Uprising, which unfolded as a series of marches, demonstrations, protests, and riots, ultimately suppressed by the killing of hundreds of demonstrators. 

The 8888 uprising was started by students in Rangoon and spread throughout the country. Hundreds of thousands of ochre-robed monks, young children, university students, housewives, and doctors demonstrated against the regime.

The uprising ended on September 18, after a bloody military coup by the State Law and Order Restoration Council. Thousands of deaths have been attributed to the military during the uprising, while government authorities in Burma put the figure at around 350 people killed. Thousands more were jailed.