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Myanmar: 2012, the Year of Protests

Aung San Suu Kyi’s election victory, the reported persecution of the Rohingya people and President Barack Obama’s state visit were probably what the international community remembered about Myanmar in 2012. These were indeed phenomenal and Global Voices was able to document and translate citizen reactions to these events and issues. But reviewing the stories which we published in the past year, we can also declare that 2012 was a breakthrough year of protests in Myanmar.

Community protests have emerged against some development projects. For example, the China-financed copper mining project in Letpadaung was fiercely opposed by local residents. A protest camp established by monks was violently dispersed by state forces which drew global condemnation.

Protests against power shortage in large cities. Photo from Facebook page of CJ Myanmar

Spontaneous protests eruptedin several large cities in response to the power blackouts last summer. The people blamed the power shortage to the incompetence of the government and the decision to divert some of the country’s energy supply to China.

Blue balloons were released as the symbol of peace on International Day of Peace. Photo – CJ Myanmar Facebook Page

Peace rallies were organized to support the peace talks between the government and rebels. Various groups joined a rally celebrating the International Day of Peace, although the Peace Day event was blocked by the police. These initiatives also highlighted that the civil war in Myanmar has created thousands of refugees in the country. We translated a Burmese article which exposed the conditions of refugees living in refugee camps.

There were several small protests which generated public debate, especially online: Women activists who joined an anti-mining protest were detained for a brief time, the government blocked an attempt to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a military crackdown on the student movement, and a lot of people were outraged by the reported selling of ‘Buddha shoes’

Netizens are reminded not to spread hate messages on social networking sites. Photo from New Mandala

The violence in the western part of the country sparked the most intense discussion in the country while the world was almost united in condemning the human rights violations inflicted on the Rohingya people. Surprisingly, domestic opinion on the Rohingya, which is struggling for recognition as an ethnic minority group, is divided and even opposition personalities didn’t express full support to the plight of the Rohingya. Activists outside Myanmar are wondering why democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi merely spoke about ‘rule of law’in reference to the Rohingya issue.

Still, the debates over the Rohingya issue should not make us forget that the local conflict has displaced thousands of innocent villagers which affected both the Rohingya and the Rakhine people.

Thousands cheered the arrival of United States President Barack Obama in Myanmar, an event which signaled that local reforms implemented by the civilian government are being recognized by world leaders. Netizens also actively commented on the famous kiss given by Obama to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Some notable reforms in the past year included the release of more than 500 political prisoners and the holding of a regular Parliamentary elections.

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