Protestors marched in downtown Montreal on Oct. 6 to show their support for the “pro-democracy” demonstrations in Burma and to condemn the violent crackdown against the peaceful participants. The march was coordinated to be part of the Global Day of Action for Burma.
Speaking about the objectives of the march, Andree Sophia, one of the organizers, said, “One of the important [aims is to let] the military know that we support the Burmese protestors; the monks and the people living there, in their quest for democracy. We also want to inform the population here on what’s going on over there.”
Kathleen Hadekel, a member of McGill’s Burma Solidarity Collective, also said, “We’re here first to show our solidarity and support for the men and women in Burma who are standing up for democracy… We’re also here to denounce the violent crackdown by the Burmese government, and to call for the release of all political prisoners in Burma.”
Burma, which was renamed Myanmar in 1989 by its ruling junta, has been, and still is, going through a period of political instability. Thousands of people, led by Buddhist monks, have been protesting against their military regime for almost two months. The protests were triggered when the State Peace and Development Council, the ruling junta, decided to remove fuel subsidies, in accordance with recommendations by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. This caused an increase of 500 per cent of gas and 100 per cent of diesel prices.
The protests, however, go far deeper than that. The military regime in Burma has killed journalists, demonstrators, and refused to step down when Aung San Suu Kyi, an opposition leader, was elected as Prime Minister in 1990. The junta also put Suu Kyi under house arrest.
The participants in the Montreal march gathered in front of McGill University’s Roddick Gates. They silently marched on Sherbrooke St., then turned towards Guy St., stopping next to the Guy-Concordia metro station.
Between Guy and Maisonneuve, grabbing the attention of many passerbys, the protestors chanted slogans like “Human rights in Burma now!” and “Allow peaceful protest!”
Several protestors were holding eye-catching signs of the silhouette of a monk spray-painted on pieces of paper.
After asking her why she was holding one, Daryl Ross, the Concordia University Chaplain, replied, “Because it’s bringing to mind the monks, it reminds me of… shadow people that you see in Hiroshima… Not that there’s been a Hiroshima, but a lot of monks have disappeared, and a lot of monks have been tortured… imprisoned… killed. So this, for me, is just a silent way of bearing witness to that.”
After chanting near Concordia University’s downtown campus, the protestors continued their march. Some organizations, such as the Montréal-Burma Solidaire, a coalition formed to mobilize support for the protests in Burma, handed out flyers to pedestrians to inform them about the political situation in Burma.
The participants stopped at Dorchester Square, and to the applause of the protestors, some people spoke outagainst the Burmese military regime and in support of the opposition.
Speaking for the Montréal-Burma Solidaire, Jesse Gutman said, “Though the numbers are not precise, we know there have been more than a hundred killed, many many more incarcerated, put in jail. And it’s essential that we, as citizens of the world, really stand in unity with those who are fighting for basic human rights.”
Gutman also reiterated the call for “the release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.”
Hadekel also read an e-mail message she received from a Burmese activist: “I saw a [police] captain open fire straight ahead [towards] the people, but no one was harmed. I think he fired blank shells; if not, people would die. The military were preparing their defense and got ready to spray the people with tear bombs and real bullets. After half an hour, some other soldiers were reinforced to combat the demonstrators… Whatever the military tried to do to the people, the people were never afraid of them. I almost cried to see the event yesterday.”
The last paragraph of the message read, “I will mail you whatever happened today if I can, for nothing is sure here, and I don’t know what will happen to me as well.”
The message is dated Sept. 27, and Hadekel has not heard from her Burmese friend after that.
The Burmese government recently cut off methods of communication, such as mobile phones and the Internet, preventing the opposition from being able to tell the world about the atrocities the military is committing.
After the speeches, the protestors had a moment of silence, and then, led by Concordia’s Chaplain, read out the ‘Karaniya Metta Sutta’, the Buddha’s words on loving-kindness.
They numbered from 100 to 150 marchers.
On the same day, thousands of people around the world also took to the streets in support of the Burmese dissidents. Protests were witnessed in Toronto, Vancouver, London, Dublin, Seoul, amongst other cities.