50 Myanmar protesters charged with rioting

YANGON • Some 50 Myanmar factory workers and activists involved in a protest march that ended in scuffles with security forces this week have been charged with rioting, police said yesterday.

The latest move by the authorities to punish demonstrators from recent rallies comes despite efforts by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's new civilian-led government to amend draconian protest laws, as the country tries to shake off the repressive legacy of the former junta.

On Wednesday, the labour protesters were blocked by a wall of police as they tried to complete an unauthorised march into the capital, Naypyitaw. They had walked for three weeks from northern Sagaing Region, where about 100 workers have recently been fired from a timber factory.

Scuffles broke out as they were detained. The authorities said they had initially planned to charge just the rally leaders, but the remaining demonstrators had insisted on being prosecuted together.

"Now, about 50 of them have been charged with... joining in or continuing an unlawful assembly and rioting," said Naypyitaw region police head Ko Ko Aung.

He added that the authorities had banned the march into the capital on the grounds of national security. About 20 other protesters were sent home soon after the police clampdown.

Naypyitaw, built 10 years ago by Myanmar's former military rulers, is still considered a stronghold of the army, despite playing host to the country's Parliament and its first elected civilian government in half a century.

Ms Suu Kyi's party is stacked with former dissidents, who served prison time for their opposition to Myanmar's military governments.

Since taking the helm following a landslide election victory in November, the administration has freed scores of activists and political prisoners and signalled its determination to repeal oppressive laws.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline '50 Myanmar protesters charged with rioting'. Print Edition | Subscribe