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Reuters-FOCUS-Yangon quiet after st
FOCUS-Yangon quiet after student protest
09:22 a.m. Sep 03, 1998 Eastern
YANGON, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Myanmar security forces kept a low profile on
Thursday in order to avoid antagonising students who a day earlier staged
their biggest protests in years, diplomats and residents said.
Authorities managed to end Wednesday's protests at Yangon Institute of
Technology (YIT) without resorting to violence or sending riot police onto
its campuses to make arrests, diplomats in Yangon said. From 700 to 2,000
students took part in the protests, diplomats said.
On Thursday, the security presence in Yangon appeared light. Although riot
police could be seen in buildings close to past trouble spots, they were
not stationed outside at key intersections, as they were after student
protests last month.
Diplomats said the authorities appeared to have adopted a ``softly softly''
approach to avoid sparking the sort of student protests seen 10 years ago,
which escalated into a nationwide uprising for democracy.
``They are treating the students very carefully to make sure things run out
of steam of their own accord rather than squashing them,'' said one
diplomat contacted by telephone from Bangkok.
``They certainly don't want any conflict with the students,'' he said.
``They are mindful of what happened in 1988.''
Students began Wednesday's protests with demands related to educational
conditions, but later began shouting for the downfall of the military
They demanded more tuition time before sitting for examinations next week
and also protested against plans to relocate their classes to campuses far
outside the city.
The government has kept universities closed for most of the past decade to
prevent a resurgence of student unrest, but last month YIT reopened for the
first time since late 1996 to allow for short refresher courses ahead of
Despite its cautious handling of the protest, the government has shown no
indication of having given in to the student demands.
Diplomats said the government's plan to split up the YIT campus was part of
a long-term scheme it began after the 1988 uprising to ensure large numbers
of students were not concentrated in urban areas.
They said the government has been building two new YIT campuses, one at
Hlaingthayar, about 45 minutes drive from downtown Yangon, and another at
Sinde, between Yangon and Mandalay.
``The student population who have traditionally caused problems --
undergraduates and so on -- would be moved out so they can't meet and
demonstrate downtown,'' another diplomat said.
Diplomats and other analysts said it was unclear if the current round of
student protests would escalate, but they thought it unlikely for now that
ordinary people would be willing to risk joining in, despite worsening
``If the student demonstrations are designed to spark wider unrest, so far
there has been scant sign of it,'' the first diplomat said.
The student protests have come as the main opposition party, the National
League for Democracy, has stepped up its campaign to force the military to
recognise the results of the country's last election in 1990, which the NLD
won by a landslide.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the popular NLD leader who won the 1991 Nobel Peace
Prize, has vowed to convene a ``People's Parliament'' this month as the
military had ignored demands to do so.
The government has warned the NLD it could be outlawed if it goes ahead
with its plan and says the armed forces could not stand idly by if the
party stirred up unrest.