Protests in eastern Myanmar over bridge renaming

Ethnic Mon protesting yesterday over plans to name a bridge after Ms Suu Kyi's father, who is regarded as a national hero by the Bamar majority but seen as a more controversial figure by many ethnic groups.
Ethnic Mon protesting yesterday over plans to name a bridge after Ms Suu Kyi's father, who is regarded as a national hero by the Bamar majority but seen as a more controversial figure by many ethnic groups.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

YANGON • Thousands of people protested in eastern Myanmar yesterday against plans to name a bridge after Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's father, the latest flashpoint between her administration and the country's restless ethnic minorities.

The issue highlights some of the deep distrust among Myanmar's patchwork of minorities towards the Bamar ethnic majority from which Ms Suu Kyi and most of the political establishment hail.

Thousands hit the streets of eastern Mon State yesterday, the biggest rally yet against plans to rename the local Thanlwin bridge spanning the wide Salween River.

Lawmakers from Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party have proposed calling it the Bogyoke Aung San bridge.

Bogyoke (major-general) Aung San was Ms Suu Kyi's father, seen as the founder of post-colonial Myanmar who was assassinated before the country won its independence from Britain.

Many of those protesting said locals felt their wishes to keep the old name were being ignored.

"The NLD is powerful in Parliament and nowadays they can pass whatever proposal they like," demonstrator Lin Htet, 34, said.

"But for us and for all ethnic people, we value many things in our culture and they should listen to what the local ethnics want."

Mr Saw Kyaw Moe, who hails from the nearby Karen ethnic group, was part of a contingent of protesters who joined in support of the Mon.

"The MPs should listen to the wishes of the people who appointed them as MPs but now they don't listen to the voices of the people," he said.

The fight over the bridge's name is seen as part of a larger fight for ethnic self-determination.

Ms Suu Kyi's father is regarded as a national hero, especially among the Bamar majority.

But many ethnic groups see him as a more controversial figure who failed to deliver on promises of greater autonomy and federalism for them.

For decades, Myanmar's border regions have been plagued by insurgencies and civil wars against the Bamar-dominated military, which is widely loathed by ethnic minorities.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'Protests in eastern Myanmar over bridge renaming'. Print Edition | Subscribe