Lone Myanmar protester jailed for four years

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YANGON, Sep 12 (Reuters) A court in military-ruled Myanmar has sentenced a man to four years jail for a solo protest calling on Buddhist monks to turn their backs on junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe, the opposition said today.

The man, in his late 20s and identified as Soe Aung, was arrested in Taunggok, 400 km northwest of Yangon, yesterday and tried and sentenced at a closed hearing within a few hours, the local National League for Democracy (NLD) said.

He also called for a reversal of last month's shock fuel price rises.

However, Soe Aung's waving of a placard urging the Buddhist equivalent of excommunication of Than Shwe coincided with reports of some monasteries demanding a public apology for a junta crackdown on monks last week.

The threat evoked memories of 1990 when monks refused to accept donations of food from military officials or their families in protest at the junta's refusal to accept their crushing defeat at the hands of the NLD in that year's elections.

Such rejection by monks, who are not allowed to own material possessions and depend on daily alms for food, is taken very seriously in the devoutly Buddhist former Burma.

Donations are seen as a means of paying respect to ancestors, atoning for bad deeds and storing up merit for rebirth.

''Legal action was taken, so immediately he did not have any right of defence. It could be because of his slogan calling for the expulsion of the Senior General,'' Khin Hla, the NLD's Taunggok chairman, told Reuters.

''We will do all we can to help this activist. We are now making necessary inquiries and having discussions with legal experts,'' he added.

Two young protesters arrested in Taunggok last month were released five days later when 1,000 people rallied in their defence.

At least 150 activists have been arrested in more than three weeks for protests against shock increases in fuel prices and declining living standards.

Thirteen leaders of the so-called ''88 Generation Students Group'' who spearheaded a mass uprising against military rule in 1988 have been arrested. Soe Aung appears to be the first dissident to receive an official trial and sentence.

Families of the 13 still-influential student leaders have appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to try to find out where they are being held and get access to them.

Official media have made no mention of the group since their arrest on August 21 and the United States demanded on Tuesday that humanitarian groups be allowed to visit those detained following unconfirmed reports some detainees had been beaten.

''The ICRC has promised to help,'' one family member said.

Myanmar has been under unbroken military rule for the last 45 years during which time its economy has been transformed from one of Asia's brightest economic prospects to one of the region's poorest countries.

REUTERS CS BST1152

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