People forced to attend state-run rallies in support of the National Convention and the proposed draft constitution openly opposed the rally organizers by shouting anti-government messages, according to sources who attended the rallies.

A large number of people from different walks of life including children attend a pro-government rally at the Thuwunna Sports Ground in Rangoon, on October 13 [Photo: AFP]

In Rangoon, state media reported 120,000 people attended a rally, but sources said officials used coercion, threatening those who didn’t want to attend with paying a compensation fee to those who participated. Similar rallies were staged throughout the country.

Sources say authorities threatened people in Sittwe with a 1.000 kyat fine if they did not support the National Convention ceremony. Many people chose to pay the fine, sources said, but the government said they must attend anyway.

The government held similar ceremonies in Shan, Arakan, Kachin and Karenni states, and in Pegu, Mandalay and Rangoon divisions, according to The New Light of Myanmar.

It reported 110,000 people attended in Pegu division; 138,000 in Mandalay division; 71,000 in Sittwe; and 13,000 in Mongnai Township in southern Shan State.

A Rangoon resident told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, “People gathered in fear of military threats, not for what they believe. It is not their real will, and they are not interested in it. It is regime propaganda.”

In Myitkyina in Kachin State in upper Burma, a resident said authorities forced three people from each house to attend the ceremony.

“During the ceremony, people didn’t care what the organizers were talking about,” he said. “They were just going around and talking with each other.”

During the rallies, organizers asked the crowds to shout “Oppose” each time a speaker read off one of the “four desires of the people.” one item read, “Eliminate foreign elements that threaten the stability of the nation.” Instead of “Oppose,” the crowd responded by shouting, “Our cause, Our cause” said one source, laughing.

“It showed people participate in opposing the government as much as they can,” said the source.

A resident in Sittwe in western Burma said that during the ceremony there, when organizers asked people to shout “Oppose,” some in the crowd shouted, “Release the detainees.”

“It was very funny,” he said.