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By The Irrawaddy MARCH, 1999 - VOLUME 7 NO.3

(Page 4 of 11)

News of young students being tortured in Insein prison spread all over the country, but on the campuses, the protests continued and the student movement was gaining momentum.

On June 12, 1988, a crowd of students formed on the RASU campus to look at copies of a poster drawn by Min Ko Naing which depicted a girl being beaten by soldiers near Inya Lake. The caption below the drawing said: "Don’t forget March 16th. If we are cowed into submission and fail to rise up this time, then the country will be ruled by even more repressive rulers in the future." Several students were moved to speak out, demanding the release of student activists and the reinstatement of students who had been expelled from universities for political reasons. Within a week the government closed all universities and colleges again.

To everyone’s surprise, Ne Win stepped down the following month. His loyal supporter, Gen Sein Lwin, replaced him as president of Burma, and student activists were released from prison. However, as Sein Lwin was widely disliked, fresh protests broke out in cities and provincial towns. A day after the detained students were set free, on July 8, Min Ko Naing and his fellow students issued a statement saying "we shouldn’t be swayed by the release of our fellow students. We will continue to fight." It was on this occasion, in fact, that Paw Oo Tun officially became known as Min Ko Naing, "Conqueror of Kings."

The statement was also significant for another reason. It had been issued under the name of the All Burma Federation of Students’ Unions (ABFSU), an organization that had played an important role in the struggle against colonial rule. Many of its early leaders were later recognized as independence heroes and statesmen, but when Ne Win came into power in 1962, he brutally repressed the organization and had the historic Students' Union building demolished. The re-emergence of the ABFSU was undoubtedly seen as a formidable challenge to the Ne Win government.


The ABFSU released a series of statements signed by Min Ko Naing in the following weeks. By far the most important was the one calling for a general strike on August 8, the date that would always be remembered as the start of the 8-8-88 pro-democracy movement.

On August 8, 1988, despite the heavy presence of troops, intimidation and threats, thousands of people took to the streets. Anti-government demonstrations broke out simultaneously in towns and cities all over the country.

In Rangoon, workers, monks, and students marched to the center of the city to join the protests. In the afternoon, a large crowd gathered to listen to Min Ko Naing give a speech in front of the US embassy.

"We, the people of Burma, have had to live without human dignity for 26 years under an oppressive rule. We must end dictatorial rule in our country. Only people power can bring down our repressive rulers," he told the crowd.

He concluded his speech by saying, "If we want to enjoy the same rights as people in other countries, we have to be disciplined, united and brave enough to stand up to the dictators. Let’s express our sufferings and demands. Nothing is going to stop us from achieving peace and justice in our country."

That night, the army opened fire on demonstrators gathered in front of Rangoon’s City Hall. Hundreds of people were gunned down. Troops were given the same orders in the provinces, where hundreds more died.

The violence continued the next day, as crowds from around Rangoon converged to form huge masses of humanity demanding change. Once again, the soldiers opened fire, killing hundreds of peaceful demonstrators.

On August 23, Min Ko Naing spoke to a large audience in front of Rangoon General Hospital, site of many recent killings. He was joined by Moe Thee Zun and Tin Oo, a former defense minister, who would later become a chairman of the NLD.

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