Students plan to protest Myanmar crackdown during ASEAN summit

18 Nov 07

University students plan to “make their voices heard” over Myanmar’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests while ASEAN leaders sign a landmark charter that would create a human-rights body, organizers said Saturday.

Despite police warnings against any public protests, three National University of Singapore (NUS) students said they would walk with others in small groups Tuesday down Orchard Road.

With Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein and Foreign Minister U Nyan Win attending the 40th anniversary summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), “We felt it would be negligent to do nothing,” said a spokeswoman. “We plan to make our voices heard.”

She said the protest would be “a gesture on behalf of Singaporeans who are afraid to speak out,” noting that police action is expected.

Public demonstrations against Myanmar’s junta have flared elsewhere, but police said Singapore’s prohibition against outdoor gatherings of more than four people without official approval is in full force during the five-day summit starting Sunday.

The spokeswoman said that those planning to participate represent an international selection of students at the city-state’s foremost university.

An opposition political party also revealed plans for a forum at a hotel timed with the summit’s opening on Sunday.

Singapore’s armed forces and civil defence force were coordinating stringent security measures with police for the event and related meetings.

The 10 member countries plan to sign an ASEAN charter giving the body a legal identity in a move toward a free-trade area by 2015 and a possible European-style regional union.

A final draft commits the members to “strengthen democracy, enhance good governances and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Critics have said that ASEAN’s policy of non-interference in other members’ affairs and continuation of decision-making by consensus could result in a “paper tiger.”

Myanmar’s military government maintains that 10 people were killed in September when troops opened fire on peaceful protestors. Diplomats and dissidents contend the death toll was much higher.

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