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July 20, 2008

Myanmar: Junta tightens security on martyrs’ day
Hundreds of riot police and soldiers ringed a monument in downtown Yangon on Saturday as officials gathered to commemorate the shooting death 61 years ago of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's father.

Myanmar independence hero Gen. Aung San and other government leaders were assassinated by gunmen during a Cabinet meeting on July 19, 1947, shortly after Britain granted independence to the Southeast Asian colony.

Flags were flown at half staff in the capital to mark the day, a state holiday. Unlike past years, foreign diplomats were not invited to the tightly guarded wreath-laying ceremony at the Martyrs’ Monument located near the famed Shwedagon pagoda.

Opposition activists have suggested that the ruling military junta is trying to downgrade the importance of Aung San's legacy as a way of undercutting the popularity of his daughter, who remains under house arrest.

Diplomats in Yangon said the Foreign Ministry had informed them that the government intended this year to hold a low-key ceremony because it comes just two and a half months after Cyclone Nargis devastated much of the region south of Yangon, leaving at least 85,000 people dead and about 50,000 missing.

Police cordoned off the monument, putting up heavy metal barriers and coils of barbed wire across roads. Dozens of policemen carrying assault rifles and shotguns manned the barricades during a heavy downpour.

Security was also tight around the headquarters of Suu Kyi's political party, the National League for Democracy, which said it would hold a separate ceremony.

In a statement, the NLD urged the junta to "immediately and unconditionally" release Suu Kyi and other detained pro-democracy activists. Suu Kyi has been detained for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

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