Myanmar police break up mine protest

2012-11-29 09:09
Burnt Buddhist monks receive treatment at a hospital after police fired water cannon and gas during a pre-dawn crackdown on villagers and monks protesting against a Chinese-backed copper mine. (J Maung Maung, AFP)

Burnt Buddhist monks receive treatment at a hospital after police fired water cannon and gas during a pre-dawn crackdown on villagers and monks protesting against a Chinese-backed copper mine. (J Maung Maung, AFP)

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Yangon - Riot police in Myanmar on Thursday fired water cannon at villagers and monks protesting against a Chinese-backed copper mine, in a pre-dawn crackdown that left dozens injured, activists said.

The demonstration was the latest example of long-oppressed Myanmar citizens testing the limits of their new freedoms after the end last year of decades of authoritarian junta rule that saw protests routinely stamped out.

The crackdown came hours ahead of a planned visit by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the town of Monywa in northern Myanmar to meet the protesters.

"While we were sleeping riot police came to the site and fired water," said Yaywata, a monk who was among hundreds of people demonstrating against the mine, which has seen months of protests over complaints of alleged land grabbing.

Several monks were arrested and around 30 others "suffered burns to their body" after police also fired an unknown gas at the group, Yaywata, who goes by one name, said.

"We are now gathering at a monastery nearby. We haven't decided what to do yet," he said.

8 charged

Photographs on the website of Myanmar-based Eleven Media Group showed monks with burn wounds and what appeared to be a protest camp destroyed by fire.

Police also unfurled a banner in English and Burmese urging protesters to accept that "the rule of law is the key to attract and protect the foreign investors".

Villagers, monks and students had been warned to vacate protest camps near the mine - a joint venture between military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings and Chinese group Wanbao - by Tuesday, but had vowed to defy authorities.

Eight demonstrators in Yangon were charged on Tuesday with defaming the state after they joined a gathering of about 50 people calling for a halt to the Monywa project and urging Chinese joint owner Wanbao to quit Myanmar.

The suspects were taken to Yangon's Insein Prison pending a trial scheduled for 3 December.

Land confiscated

Protesters are demanding the company stops work until it releases environmental and social impact studies.

During a September protest activists said about 3 200ha of land had been confiscated from local farmers without consultation, and in some cases without compensation.

The demonstration echoes fierce opposition to a Chinese-backed mega-dam which saw Myanmar President Thein Sein order the scheme's suspension last year in response to public anger.

Thein Sein's reformist government approved a bill allowing authorised peaceful protests earlier this year but demonstrators are required to seek permission five days in advance.

Read more on:    thein sein  |  aung san suu kyi  |  myanmar
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