Monday, November 19, 2007

Students defy Burma protest ban at ASEAN summit

By Koh Gui Qing
Mon Nov 19, 6:55 AM ET

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A small group of international students at Singapore universities sought to defy a ban on protest in the city-state on Monday, calling for democracy in Myanmar at a summit of Southeast Asian nations.

Singapore has banned all outdoor protest at the ASEAN summit and rejected an opposition party's request to stage a Myanmar protest. It has also designated the summit venue as a "protected areas," giving police the authority to search or detain anyone in the area or ask them to leave.

The students said they plan to move in groups smaller than four in other to get around police restrictions. Under Singapore laws, any public gathering of more than four people requires a police permit.

One group of students was warned by police not to enter protected areas.

"I am calling on the military regime to ease its repression and to release Aung San Suu Kyi," said Pia Muzaffar, a British student at the National University of Singapore.

Muzaffar and two fellow students walked hand-in-hand down Singapore's main shopping street Orchard Road, wearing red T-shirts saying "We pursue peace, justice and democracy for Burma," in red T-shirt.

Another band of three students was making its way to the summit venue via another road, outnumbered by surrounding media and videotaped by Singapore plainclothes police.

"We want to say that the world is still watching and has not forgotten about Burma," Muzaffar said.

Myanmar prime minister Thein Sein is due to arrive in Singapore on Monday afternoon, in the first appearance of a top junta member at an international forum since the regime's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September.

Thein Sein is set to brief leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a dinner on Monday and will also meet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

"We hope that Myanmar could push forward the democratic process and reconciliation through peaceful means," a Chinese foreign ministry official told reporters late on Sunday.

China, the closest the isolated Myanmar junta has to an ally, is opposed to Western countries' sanctions against Myanmar.

Security around the summit venue was tight, with 2,500 police officers mobilized, roadblocks set up in the streets and police searches of anyone going into the area.

On Tuesday, the 10-member ASEAN block is set to sign a charter that advocates democracy and human rights.

(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing and Vivek Prakash, writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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