We were cross-legged interviewing a monk when my fixer got the call about the protest. It was Thursday, the day that government forces had violently broken up the copper mine demonstration up North in Monywa.
Everyone in Yangon was talking about it, and now there was a demonstration starting at 5:00 p.m. – in about 20 minutes. The monk was understanding as we cut our conversation short. He was an activist too.
It was a little after 5:00 p.m. when we got to Sule Pagoda, the Buddhist shrine where the demonstration was to take place. It’s in the middle of a traffic circle in the center of Yangon, and we started making our way around the outside, looking for monks or chanting students or some other signs of direct action.
Partway around the building, we found the first sign – a gaggle of 25 or 30 journalists shouldering DSLRs or on cell phones or chatting behind video cameras on tripods.
Most of the journalists were Burmese.
I should pause here to point out a couple noteworthy things about this scene. Public protests haven’t always been a regular thing in Burma. Those that happened were often broken up viciously (the events at Monywa prove that this is still a very real possibility). And the coverage of the last mass protests here – 2007′s Saffron Revolution – got to the world thanks to shaky videos captured surreptitiously by brave local journalists and smuggled out of the country.This was the second day in a row that there was talk of a demonstration at Sule, and there have been others recently, about the copper mine, about a gold mine, about internet policies.
In the end no action materialized. The explanation we got was that demonstrators were waiting to hear Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement on the events in Monywa before making a move. By 6 p.m. the pack of journalists was breaking up.
I grabbed a few photos of the pagoda as the sun was setting.
The following day we heard about another protest scheduled at Sule, but when we got there at 5 p.m. a pagoda attendant told us a small group of monks had already been there, demonstrated, and gone home.