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8.8.88 People’s Uprising - SLORC Coup in Burma

The 8.8.88 People’s Uprising (August 8, 1988) for restoration of democracy and human rights was followed by the killing of hundreds of protesters on the streets of Rangoon and other cities and a military coup led by the Burmese army. In 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of NLD, the opposition to SPDC, and Nobel Peace prize winner led pro-democracy demonstrations that resulted in up to 10,000 people murdered, and the imprisonment, torture and forced exile to Thailand of others. Confident of a victory after the killings, SLORC soldiers decided to hold a May 1990 election, in which the NLD won a landslide victory with 80% of the seats contested. SLORC, refusing to acknowledge the NLD victory, arrested thousands of NLD workers and imprisoned those attempting to form a government. SLORC refused to form a new government until a new Constitution was drafted.

In early 1988, years of frustration with the disintegrating economy finally came to a head when massive student demonstrations and riots occurred in many parts of Burma. In March 1988 student disturbances broke out in Rangoon in response to the worsening ethnic conflict and economic situation which evolved into a call for regime change. Despite repeated violent crackdowns by the military and police, the demonstrations increased in size as the general public joined the students. The police and the military clamped down on student actions, leading to dozens of civilian deaths. Demonstrations continued from March through June 1988. Students were joined by Buddhist monks and workers. The military continued to respond with brutal tactics, and hundreds of civilians were arrested. Many suffered severe injuries or died from ill-treatment in detention. Many people were arbitrarily or summarily executed.

Protests continued and on June 21, 1988 the government imposed a 60 day ban on public gatherings in Rangoon. On 23 July 1988 Ne Win announced his resignation as BSPP Chairman. His resignation, however, did not see him exit from the political scene as he continued to exert considerable background influence. He remained the most important political figure in the country for some years, and is thought to have retained considerable influence. It was only in the 1990s that his influence waned as he became older and more reclusive. Ne Win's replacement, Sein Lwin, held office for only 18 days before continued public unrest forced his resignation. Dr. Maung Maung became leader, amid promises of political and economic reforms. Public protests continued, however, and even members of the military participated.

During the month of August 1988, as many as three thousand people were killed in demonstrations while peacefully exercising their rights of free association, expression and assembly. During mass demonstrations on August 8, 1988, military forces killed more than 1,000 demonstrators. It was at a rally following this massacre that Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of General Aung San, made her first political speech and assumed the role of leader of the opposition.

General Saw Maung, Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense, reasserted direct military control on September 18, 1988. The newly formed SLORC proclaimed martial law, "declared its government to be extra-constitutional," suspended the 1974 Constitution, and dissolved administrative and legislative organs. It announced an "open-door" economic policy, and promised political reform. For a short time, new political parties were allowed to form, and allowed to register under Law 6/88, the Law on Associations.

The SLORC declared its intention to transfer power to a civilian government, and conducted a largely free election in May 1990. Despite the arrest and detention of many of its candidates and party members, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) (led by its secretary-general, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) won 80% of the seats for a new legislative body. The SLORC, however, did not transfer power to the elected government, and the military continued to rule with only minor personnel changes.

On September 18, 1988, the military deposed Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP), abolished the constitution, and established a new ruling junta called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In an effort to "restore order," the SLORC sent the army into the streets to suppress the ongoing public demonstrations. An estimated additional 3,000 were killed, and more than 10,000 students fled into the hills and border areas. The SLORC also changed the countries name from Burma to Myanmar after the name of the ruling party.

The SLORC ruled by martial law until national parliamentary elections were held on May 27, 1990. The results were an overwhelming victory for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won 392 of the 485 seats, even though she was under house arrest. However, the SLORC refused to call the Parliament into session and imprisoned many political activists. In 1992 General Than Shwe became leader of the junta and took the position of prime minister. With this move many political prisoners were released, most martial law decrees were lifted and plans to draft a new constitution were announced. However despite these moves the army gave no sign that it would be returning the government to civilian control, which drew the condemnation of the United Nations Security Council. The junta also signed cease-fires with the insurgent ethnic groups except for the Karen, against whom the government launched a major offensive in 1997.

The ruling junta changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997, but did not change its policy of autocratic control and repression of the democratic opposition. In 2000, the SPDC announced it would begin talks with the political opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been released once from house arrest in 1995, only to be detained once more. These talks were followed by the release of many political prisoners and some increase in political freedoms for Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD. On May 6, 2002, she was allowed to leave her home and subsequently traveled widely throughout the country. On May 30, 2003, Aung San Suu Kyi and a convoy of her supporters were attacked by a group of government-affiliated thugs. Many members of the convoy were killed or injured and others remain unaccounted for. Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her party were detained, and the military government forcibly closed the offices of the NLD. Although NLD headquarters is open, all the party's other offices remain closed and Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD Vice Chairman U Tin Oo remain under house arrest.



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