Low-key ceremony marks anniversary of assassination of Myanmar’s founding father Gen. Aung San

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ceremony for Myanmar’s assassinated Gen. Aung San

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar held a low-key ceremony Monday to mark the anniversary of the 1947 assassination of independence hero Gen. Aung San — father of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, did not attend the Martyr’s Day event, which marks the deadly attack by a political rival on Aung San along with six Cabinet ministers and two officials, six months before Myanmar’s independence from Britain.

The anniversary is remembered each year at an official ceremony in the mausoleum near the foot of famous Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, but the ruling military has gradually downgraded its scope since Suu Kyi rose to prominence in a 1988 pro-democracy uprising that was crushed by the junta.

She headed the country’s main opposition party, which was recently forced to disband after refusing to take part in an election the junta has planned for this year.

Members of her National League for Democracy party, which still operates unofficially as a social grouping, held their own, private commemoration later, giving several speeches eulogizing the slain statesmen.

At the official ceremony, flags were flown at half-staff as officials placed flowers at the tomb. Families of the slain leaders and diplomats joined the tightly guarded wreath-laying ceremony.

The ceremony used to be attended by the prime minister, then later by the home minister, but now Yangon mayor Aung Thein Lin is the highest ranking official to take part.

Since 1996, state-run newspapers have abandoned an earlier tradition of printing commemorative biographical sketches of Aung San along with other slain leaders, together with excerpts of the independence hero’s speeches.

For the military, which has run the country since a 1962 coup, the occasion used to be an opportunity to remind people of the role the army played in securing independence. But as Suu Kyi rose to prominence, she was increasingly identified in the public’s eye as the inheritor of her father’s freedom-loving ideals.

Suu Kyi, 65, who used to attend the official ceremony, was absent for the eighth consecutive year, although her elder brother, U.S. citizen Aung San Oo laid a wreath at their father’s tomb. Aung San Oo is not politically active, and is estranged from Suu Kyi.

The ruling junta usually invites Suu Kyi to attend the ceremony but she declines in protest of her detention.

Some 300 members of Suu Kyi’s disbanded party attended Monday’s unofficial commemoration at the home of Tin Oo, the group’s former vice chairman, while more than 50 plainclothes police watched and videotaped the event from a distance. Some attendees wore T-shirts emblazoned with Aung San’s image.

At 10:37 a.m., the time of the 1947 attack, they observed a minute silence before honking car horns. In the past, factories and ships blew their whistles at 10:37 to honor the leaders, but this custom is no longer observed.

Afterward, about 70 of the league’s loyalists marched to the mausoleum and laid their own wreath at Aung San’s tomb as authorities watched from a distance without interfering.

The junta has called for the first polls in two decades to be held later this year, though no date has yet been set. Suu Kyi party won the last polls in 1990, but the military refused to honor the results.

Critics have dismissed the planned new election as a sham designed to cement nearly 50 years of military rule.

New election laws prevent Suu Kyi and other political prisoners from participating in the polls, and her party decided to boycott the balloting. As a result, it was automatically disbanded for failing to register by a May 6 deadline.

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