Myanmar police break up copper mine protest|
By Hla Hla Htay (AFP) – 3 hours ago
YANGON — Myanmar riot police fired water cannon at monks and villagers protesting against a Chinese-backed copper mine Thursday, injuring dozens in a crackdown ahead of a visit by Aung San Suu Kyi, activists said.
The demonstration was the latest example of long-oppressed Myanmar citizens testing the limits of their new freedoms after the end last year of decades of authoritarian junta rule that saw protests routinely stamped out.
The pre-dawn raid on protest camps came hours ahead of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's planned visit to the town of Monywa in northern Myanmar, where she was expected to speak to the demonstrators.
"While we were sleeping riot police came to the site and fired water," said Yaywata, a monk who was among hundreds of people demonstrating against the mine, which has seen months of protests over alleged land grabbing.
Several monks were arrested and around 30 others "suffered burns to their body", Yaywata, who goes by one name, told AFP.
Protesters recounted being shaken from their sleep as police used the water cannon and some kind of flares or canister-type devices that they said sparked fires at the rally site.
"The monks got up and tried to resist," reciting Buddhist prayers, protester Zaw Phone Myint told AFP by telephone.
The monks urged other protesters to flee while they continued to face the police, he said, accusing the security forces of having "no humanity at all."
Photographs on the website of Myanmar-based Eleven Media Group showed monks with burn wounds and what appeared to be a protest camp destroyed by fire.
Police also unfurled a banner in English and Burmese urging protesters to accept that "the rule of law is the key to attract and protect the foreign investors".
Villagers, monks and students had been warned to vacate protest camps near the mine -- a joint venture between military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings and Chinese group Wanbao -- by Tuesday, but had vowed to defy authorities.
Eight demonstrators in Yangon were charged Tuesday with defaming the state after they joined a gathering of about 50 people calling for a halt to the Monywa project and urging Chinese joint owner Wanbao to quit Myanmar.
The suspects were taken to Yangon's Insein Prison pending a trial scheduled for December 3.
Protesters are demanding the company stops work until it releases environmental and social impact studies.
During a September protest activists said some 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) of land had been confiscated from local farmers without consultation, and in some cases without compensation.
Chinese-backed projects to tap Myanmar's abundant natural resources have sparked resentment among local residents, who have been testing the new reformist government's proclaimed tolerance of freedom of expression.
The latest demonstration echoes fierce opposition to a Chinese-backed mega-dam which saw Myanmar President Thein Sein order the scheme's suspension last year in response to public anger.
The former general's government approved a bill allowing authorised peaceful protests earlier this year but demonstrators are required to seek permission five days in advance.
Monks are frequently at the forefront of protests in Myanmar, most memorably leading 2007 anti-junta rallies that resulted in a brutal crackdown by the authorities.