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Man sets himself ablaze in Yangon temple

March 23, 2008

From AFP – A 26-year-old man set himself on fire in Yangon’s most famous Buddhist temple in an apparent protest against economic hardship in military-ruled Myanmar, witnesses and police said Sunday.

Witnesses said the man bent down to pray at a shrine in Shwedagon Pagoda on Friday — a Buddhist holiday here — before standing up, dousing himself with petrol and setting himself alight with a candle.

The temple is one of the nation’s holiest sites and was the focal point for Buddhist monks during anti-junta demonstrations in Yangon last year.

Some witnesses told AFP that before the man’s apparent self-immolation, he said: “May we be free from economic hardship.”

A Yangon police official, who refused to be named, identified the man as Thaw Zin Naing from Ayeyarwaddy Division west of Yangon.

“He is recovering now at Yangon General Hospital. The chance for his survival is 40 percent,” the official told AFP.

“No one heard clearly what he shouted at the time,” he said, adding that the man was not associated with any political party or pro-democracy group.

Myanmar’s economy has been run into the ground by decades of mismanagement by military governments since the army seized power in 1962.

An overnight hike in fuel prices in August 2007 left many commuters unable even to afford the bus fare to work, and sparked anti-government protests.

The movement took off in late September when Buddhist monks led up to 100,000 supporters on to the streets in peaceful marches that became the most potent threat to the regime in almost two decades.

The junta responded with a bloody crackdown. At least 31 people died in the unrest, an investigation by the United Nations found, although Human Rights Watch put the toll at more than 100.

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