Students defy Myanmar protest ban at ASEAN summit

Koh Gui Qing
19 Nov 07

(Reuters photo)A small group of international students at Singapore universities defied a ban on protest in the city-state on Monday with a short-lived march, calling for democracy in Myanmar at a summit of Southeast Asian nations.

Singapore has banned all outdoor protest at the summit of the Association of South East Nations and rejected an opposition party’s request to stage a Myanmar protest.

(Bloomberg photo) The students dispersed at the summit venue, designated as a “protected area” that gave police the authority to search or detain anyone in the area, after police told them to turn around.

“We wish ASEAN would take more pro-active steps to promote human rights within the region. It’s not our intention to break the law,” said Dylan Bird, a student from New Zealand at the National University of Singapore.

Myanmar prime minister Thein Sein is due to arrive in Singapore on Monday afternoon, in the first appearance of a top junta member at an international forum since the regime’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September.

(Bloomberg photo) Thein Sein is set to brief leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a dinner on Monday and will also meet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

“I am calling on the military regime to ease its repression and to release Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Pia Muzaffar, a British student at the National University of Singapore. The students had moved around the city-state in groups smaller than four in other to get around police restrictions. Under Singapore laws, any public gathering of more than four people requires a police permit.

Muzaffar and two fellow students had walked hand-in-hand down Singapore’s main shopping street Orchard Road, wearing red T-shirts saying “We pursue peace, justice and democracy for Burma.”

(Bloomberg photo)Another band of three students made their way to the summit venue via another road, outnumbered by media and videotaped by Singapore plainclothes police.

On Tuesday ASEAN nations will adopt a charter that advocates democracy and human rights.

Security around the summit venue was tight, with 2,500 police officers mobilised, roadblocks set up in the streets and police searches of anyone going into the area.

Protest Singapore style: 3 marchers, 19 media, 1,000 police
Stephanie Phang
19 Nov 07

(Bloomberg photo)A planned protest in Singapore against Asian leaders’ “tacit” approval of Myanmar’s fatal crackdown on demonstrations fizzled today when only three students braved the city-state’s tough laws against marches.

The three protesters were followed by 19 reporters and photographers in an area of the city surrounded by 1,000 armed police and soldiers. The protest was planned to coincide with a meeting of leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Myanmar.

Singapore, where a protest gathering of more than four people needs to be approved by police, is hosting the 13th Asean leaders’ summit. City authorities have banned protests against Mynamar.

“A lot of people wanted to come, but they were afraid of the repercussions,” said Daniel Babiak, a student from the National University of Singapore. The university also called them to warn them about Singapore’s laws, he said.

The three students, wearing red T-shirts and holding candles, were protesting against Asean’s lack of response against the Myanmar junta’s September crackdown on its largest anti-government demonstrations, which killed more than 100 people, according to the United Nations.

Asean leaders have rebuffed calls for sanctions against Myanmar over the violence.

Singapore, which has restricted public assembly since communal violence killed 36 people in the 1960s, said it can’t make exceptions for overseas visitors protesting at the meetings.

Tough Penalties

Singapore metes out fines for petty crimes such as littering and has a reputation for tough punishments. Demonstrators can be jailed.

More than a decade ago, Singapore’s caning of American teenager Michael Fay on vandalism charges strained relations with then U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The three students, who were heading toward the Shangri-La hotel, where the leaders are meeting, were stopped by security officials and warned before they could reach the venue. The three held a candlelight vigil at a corner near the hotel instead.

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