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Supporters of Myanmar's jailed leader Suu Kyi mark her 79th birthday with a flower-themed protest

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Supporters of Myanmar's jailed leader Suu Kyi mark her 79th birthday with a flower-themed protest
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Supporters of Myanmar's jailed leader Suu Kyi mark her 79th birthday with a flower-themed protest

2024-06-19 22:22 Last Updated At:22:31

BANGKOK (AP) — Supporters of Myanmar’s imprisoned ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi carried out peaceful flower-themed protests marking her 79th birthday on Wednesday, some taking to the streets in defiance of the military government’s repression.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner who led a decades-long struggle against military rule, was detained on Feb. 1, 2021, when the army seized power from her elected government. She is serving a 27-year prison term on what are widely regarded as charges that were contrived to keep her from political activity.

She is one of more than 20,600 people currently detaine d for opposing military rule, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which documents arrests.

Pro-democracy street protests in Suu Kyi’s honor were held openly Wednesday in parts of the country not under the control of the army, including in Sagaing and Magway regions in central Myanmar, and Tanintharyi in the south, as well as in Kachin state in the north.

Images on social media showed protesters carrying Suu Kyi’s picture and banners reading “Happy Birthday, Steel Rose” and “The steel roses will retaliate against the junta’s oppression without yielding,” referencing one of their hero’s nicknames and adopting the sobriquet for themselves.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army’s 2021 takeover, which led to nationwide peaceful protests that escalated into armed resistance and what now amounts to a civil war.

However, nonviolent protests continue to be popular, both online and on the ground. They are often coordinated around themes, such as a flower strike.

One common practice is to post online self-portraits along with symbols of the strike or of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, but with faces obscured to prevent identification by the authorities.

In the southern region of Tanintharyi, hundreds of demonstrators in Dawei district displayed Suu Kyi’s famous slogan “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”

Min Lwin Oo, a leader of the Democracy Movement Strike Committee (Dawei), told The Associated Press that the quote was supposed to inspire people to have courage and no fear in carrying out revolution against military dictatorship.

Young people held more discreet protests in the big cities of Yangon and Mandalay, where it's not unusual for security forces to use force to break up demonstrations and make arrests.

Eleven Media, a news outlet that maintains good relations with the military government, reported that 22 people in Mandalay were arrested for alleged involvement in the flower strike.

Tayzar San, a prominent leader of the opposition’s General Strike Coordination Body that organized the strike, said that people’s participation proved that even after three years under oppressive military rule, the revolutionary spirit couldn't be quelled.

Kim Aris, Suu Kyi’s younger son living in London, had urged people to celebrate his mother’s birthday by supporting humanitarian aid campaigns.

“Currently, people who love her want to give her flowers and cakes as birthday presents, but she is in a situation where she is not allowed to accept it,” he said in a statement posted on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

Consequently, her admirers should do as much as they can to help with humanitarian aid, he said.

“I think this will be my mother’s most desired birthday present,” Aris said.

The United Nations has estimated that at least 3 million people in Myanmar have been made homeless by conflict in the last three years and are in desperate need of assistance.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, which the military government declared dissolved last year, released a statement on Wednesday on its Facebook page calling for the release of all the detained political prisoners including Suu Kyi.

Several Western embassies posted pictures of roses and jasmine on their social media pages, with some also issuing statements calling for her and all political prisoners to be released.

FILE - Myanmar's then eader Aung San Suu Kyi waits to address judges of the International Court of Justice on the second day of three days of hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, Dec. 11, 2019. Supporters of Myanmar’s imprisoned ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi carried out peaceful flower-themed protests marking her 79th birthday on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, some taking to the streets in defiance of the military government’s repression. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

FILE - Myanmar's then eader Aung San Suu Kyi waits to address judges of the International Court of Justice on the second day of three days of hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, Dec. 11, 2019. Supporters of Myanmar’s imprisoned ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi carried out peaceful flower-themed protests marking her 79th birthday on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, some taking to the streets in defiance of the military government’s repression. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh has been gripped by violence this week after relentless clashes between student protesters, security officials and pro-government student activists over a quota system for government jobs.

Protest organizers say they are imposing “a complete shutdown” across Bangladesh on Thursday, except for essential services. This comes after several major universities in the country agreed to shut their doors indefinitely until tensions ease.

Here’s what we know:

The protests, which have drawn tens of thousands out on the streets, began late last month but tensions escalated on Monday when student activists at Dhaka University, the country’s largest, clashed with police and counter-protesters backed by the ruling Awami League. At least 100 people were injured in the aftermath.

The next day, as violence continued to roil campuses across Bangladesh, six people were killed. More clashes were also reported on Wednesday and Thursday and paramilitary forces were deployed to patrol the streets of major cities.

In response, major universities said they will close until the situation is resolved in order to protect students.

The protesters say they will continue to demonstrate but are open to discussions with the government. More violence took place on Thursday in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country as police fired tear gas at protesters, according to police officials and local television.

At the heart of the demonstrations is a quota system that reserves up to 30% of government jobs for family members of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

Protesters want to abolish this system, which they say is discriminatory and benefits supporters of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League party, which led the independence movement. They want it replaced with a system that’s based on merit.

Even though job opportunities have grown in some parts of the private sector, many people prefer government jobs because they are seen as more stable and lucrative. But there aren’t enough to go around — each year, some 400,000 graduates compete for around 3,000 jobs in the civil service exam.

Under the quota system, government jobs are also reserved for women, disabled people and members of ethnic minorities, but students have mainly protested against jobs reserved for veterans’ families.

Hasina has defended the quota system, saying that veterans deserve the highest respect for their contributions in the war regardless of their political affiliation.

Her government has also accused the main opposition parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the right wing Jamaat-e-Islami party, of fueling chaos. The BNP has backed the students' calls for shutdown on Thursday.

On Wednesday, authorities also raided the headquarters of the BNP and arrested several activists from the party's student wing.

The clashes come months after Hasina maintained power in an election that was boycotted by opposition parties and saw opposition members jailed ahead of the polls.

This isn’t the first time there’s been uproar over this issue. In 2018, Hasina’s government halted the quotas after mass student protests.

However, the High Court nullified that decision last month and reinstated the quotas after relatives of the 1971 veterans filed petitions, sparking the latest round of protests. The Supreme Court suspended that decision and promised to rule on the issue on Aug. 7. Despite this, the protests have persisted.

“I am requesting all to wait with patience until the verdict is delivered,” Hasina said in a televised address Wednesday evening. “I believe our students will get justice from the apex court. They will not be disappointed.”

The furore has also highlighted cracks in Bangladesh’s governance and economy following the pandemic and global upheaval of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and reflect a lack of good quality jobs available for young graduates.

“The reason behind such huge participation is that many students go through the bitter experience of not finding the jobs they deserve after completing their education," wrote Anu Muhammad, a former economics professor and analyst, in the Dhaka-based Daily Star newspaper. "In addition, rampant corruption and irregularities in government job recruitment exams and selection processes have created immense frustration and anger.”

“The country’s economy shows growth, but jobs are not being created,” he wrote.

Hasnat Abdullah, a protest coordinator, said the students want to return to classes but will do so once their demands are met.

On Thursday afternoon, Bangladesh’s Law Minister Anisul Huq said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked him to sit with the protesters for a dialogue, and he was ready to sit down on Thursday if protesters were willing.

AP writer Krutika Pathi contributed from New Delhi, India.

Students advocating for quota reform in public service held a mock funeral at Dhaka University in memory of those who died during clashes, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

Students advocating for quota reform in public service held a mock funeral at Dhaka University in memory of those who died during clashes, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

CORRECTS LOCATION - Students clash over quota system at New market area of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

CORRECTS LOCATION - Students clash over quota system at New market area of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

Police fire tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse students shouting slogans in favor of quota system in public service at the university campus, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

Police fire tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse students shouting slogans in favor of quota system in public service at the university campus, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

Police fire tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse students shouting slogans in favor of quota system in public service at the university campus, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

Police fire tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse students shouting slogans in favor of quota system in public service at the university campus, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

Students clash over quota system at Jahangir Nagar University at Savar outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, July 15, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday.(AP Photo/Abdul Goni)

Students clash over quota system at Jahangir Nagar University at Savar outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, July 15, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday.(AP Photo/Abdul Goni)

Here's what to know about the violent protests over government jobs roiling Bangladesh

Here's what to know about the violent protests over government jobs roiling Bangladesh

Here's what to know about the violent protests over government jobs roiling Bangladesh

Here's what to know about the violent protests over government jobs roiling Bangladesh

Students clash over quota system at Jahangir Nagar University at Savar outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, July 15, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday.(AP Photo/Abdul Goni)

Students clash over quota system at Jahangir Nagar University at Savar outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, July 15, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday.(AP Photo/Abdul Goni)

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