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Singaporean activists Wednesday denounced their government’s decision to honour visiting Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein by naming a new orchid strain after him.
The premier was given the tribute at the National Orchid Garden, one of the city-state’s tourist attractions, but three demonstrators went to the nearby Myanmar embassy to register their objections.
Foreign dignitaries are routinely brought to the garden for a flower-naming ceremony but the activists said the general did not deserve to have an orchid — “Dendrobium Thein Sein” — named after him because of his government’s record.
“As Singaporeans we want to register our disapproval over the naming of Singapore’s national flower, the orchid, after a leader of the despotic military junta of Burma,” said a group calling itself Singaporeans for Burmese Democracy.
Burma is the former name of Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1962 and has resisted international pressure to improve its human rights record and to introduce democratic reforms.
“We feel that it is more fitting for the orchid flower to be honoured in the name of (opposition leader) Aung San Suu Kyi, the rightful leader of Burma,” the statement added.
An AFP reporter said Thein Sein signed a symbolic “birth certificate” officially naming the orchid, one of many new strains constantly developed in Singapore.
An official press release from the National Parks Board described it as a “robust hybrid” whose sepals “curl backward and are greenish-yellow flushed with brown.”
After the ceremony, three local activists went to the Myanmar embassy and unfurled a banner saying “Long Live Aung San Suu Kyi” before leaving eight orchids dedicated to her, one of them told AFP.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won general elections in Myanmar in 1990 but the junta never allowed it to take office. She has been under house arrest for most of the past 19 years.
Singapore has also named orchids after former South African President Nelson Mandela, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji, among others.
Read more about the orchid protest here
Singapore Orchid named after visiting Myanmar PM
Singapore has urged Myanmar’s military rulers to re-establish relations with the West, whose sanctions have repeatedly failed to force the oppressive regime to free political prisoners and bring democracy to the country.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told his Myanmar counterpart Thein Sein on Tuesday the city-state would “do what we can” to help the junta revive ties with the United States and Europe.
“Countries are grappling with the financial crisis, and asking themselves what is the most effective way to conduct their affairs with other regions,” said Lee, whose People’s Action Party has governed Singapore since independence in 1965.
“We hope Myanmar will seize this moment to take bolder steps towards national reconciliation and in engaging the international community,” he said in a dinner reception speech.
Lee’s remarks came as a U.N. investigator called on the junta to release more than 2,100 political prisoners and allow them to take part in an election set for 2010.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, also urged the military to halt its use of civilians in forced labour.
Washington, whose sanctions on Myanmar include freezing assets of the ruling generals, wants the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Singapore, to press for reform and political progress in Myanmar.
But Singapore, a strong U.S. ally and a growing centre for wealth management, has opposed sanctions on Myanmar and is believed to be home to the generals’ offshore bank accounts.
Lee said resource-scarce Singapore would continue to develop business opportunities in resource-rich Myanmar, urging the junta to provide a “stable environment for businessmen to operate in, and take concrete steps to remove barriers and bureaucratic hassles”.
On Wednesday, Singapore’s state-run Botanic Gardens hosted an “Orchid Naming Ceremony” for Thein Sein, the number four in the junta’s hierarchy, a ceremony that the government traditionally conducts to honour visiting dignitaries.
Three Singaporeans at the gardens tried to present a bouquet of orchids to Thein Sein to give to Suu Kyi, and called for her release. Protests are rare in Singapore and gatherings of five or more people are illegal without a police permit.