Tuesday, 19 November 2019

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Students make risky public call for right to form unions

Rangoon (Mizzima) – A group of students publicly distributed leaflets near a crowded junction in Rangoon yesterday, urging people to boycott the junta’s forthcoming elections and calling for the freedom to legally form student unions, witnesses said.

At least seven students near Hledan Junction in Kamayut Township handed out the leaflets to passers-by that described the junta’s elections scheduled for this year “a fake”. The gathering also commemorated the 48th anniversary of the July 7 massacre at Rangoon University in 1962, during the dictatorship of late General Ne Win.

“I saw students distributing the leaflets. I was curious to know what they said,” a young man told Mizzima. “The leaflets called for the right to organise student unions legally, boycott of the ‘fake’ election and to oppose the military dictatorship.”

“I felt nervous to take it, so I dropped it”, he added.

According to a man who lives in a condominium near the junction, the seven youths, who he said might be university students, gathered at around 10 a.m. He estimated their ages at more than 20.

The students also handed out the leaflets to passengers waiting at bus stops, according to an official from the umbrella division of the Ministry of Industry No. 1.

In 1962, students from Rangoon University staged peaceful protests on July 7 against the Ne Win government, citing anger at “unjust university rules”. Ne Win sent troops to disperse the uprising, at which they shot dozens of students dead and dynamited the historic Student Union building the next morning with students still inside.

A report on the Democracy for Burma website said the army took some of the students’ bodies away, though some were still alive, and crushed them at the sewage treatment plant in Rangoon.

After Ne Win’s military coup in March 1962 Rangoon University was put directly under the control of the Directorate of Higher Education, a junta agency.

According to official figures, 16 students died and 70 were injured at the university in July 7 protests.

“But, we learned that at least more than 100 people died. We could say because 86 people were taken to the Rangoon Hospital and 68 people were taken to the Mingladon Defence Services General Hospital, according to reliable sources,” the former secretary of 62 generation students’ All Burma Federation of Student Unions told Mizzima, adding that the fate of those taken to Mingladon hospital was unknown.

The ABFSU has carried on its revolution against dictatorship underground as successive Burmese dictators have continued to ban student unions.

Rangoon University has been at the centre of civil discontent throughout its history. All the nationwide strikes against British colonisers in 1920, 1936 and 1938 began there and anti-colonial leaders such as Aung San, U Nu, U Thant, and ironically Ne Win, were alumni. The tradition of protest at the university continued, also in 1974 and 1988 and more recently in 1996.


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