Myanmar: 1000s gather to pay tribute to General Aung San

- Daughter Aung San Suu Kyi urges supporters to honor father’s memory by fighting for 'truly democratic union.'

By Joshua Carroll

YANGON, Myanmar (AA) - Thousands gathered across Myanmar on Friday to pay tribute to their independence hero, General Aung San, on the centenary of his birth.

Huge crowds flocked to his hometown of Nat Mauk, central Myanmar, with some camping overnight to hear his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, talk about his legacy.

The opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate urged supporters to honor her father’s memory by fighting for a "truly democratic union" as the country emerges from decades under military rule.

Aung San led the fight for independence against British colonialism, but in 1947 was gunned down by assassins just months before Myanmar -- then known as Burma -- gained its freedom. Suu Kyi was just two-years-old when he died. 

He also brokered the Panglong Agreement, an accord that promised ethnic minorities autonomy from central government. But in the years following his death Myanmar sank into civil war and, eventually, five decades of military dictatorship, leaving the agreement unrealized. 

In Yangon, the country’s largest city, hundreds gathered in People’s Park on Friday to hear speeches and watch plays about Aung San’s life. Children held balloons and above the crowds hung red bunting adorned with golden peacocks, a symbol of democracy.

Tin Oo, deputy leader of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, paid tribute to Aung San flanked by giant cutouts of the general that loomed above the stage.

"I admire him so much," Zar War Aung, a tour guide sporting an Aung San T-shirt and a golden peacock brooch, told The Anadolu Agency. "He fought hard for this country, he was a freethinker."

Aung San’s enormous popularity is considered the main reason for the political rise of his daughter, who joined a pro-democracy uprising in 1988 and quickly became its leader before being placed under a total of 15 year’s house arrest. 

Suu Kyi is now an MP, having led the National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in by-elections in 2012. But as a general election approaches at the end of the year it seems increasingly unlikely that she will be allowed to cement her father's legacy by becoming president if her party wins.

A clause in the military-drafted constitution bars anyone with foreign relatives from the top job. Suu Kyi’s two sons are British.

As Myanmar remembers its independence hero, his efforts to achieve political autonomy for ethnic groups along the borderlands are yet to be realized despite political reforms that began in 2011.

President Thein Sein raised hopes Thursday that that dream may happen soon by signing a pledge in support of a federal union. The United Nations special advisor on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, hailed the signing as "historic."

For many ordinary citizens in Myanmar, Aung San’s legacy lives on not at the negotiating table, but through the woman who wants to be the country's next leader. 

Zar War Aung recalls learning about Aung San as a child, as she stands in front of a stall selling gold and marble-colored busts of him.

"I hope his daughter will get to be president."

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