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Vigil will mark Burmese violence

Responding to reports of violence in Burma, students on Duke's campus are carrying out a political movement that started nearly two months ago on the other the side of the world.

The Asian Students Association, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Working Group are sponsoring events in support of victims of the Burmese violence beginning with a vigil Tuesday. Students participating in the demonstration will wear red shirts-to imitate the saffron-red robes worn by Buddhist monks-and gather on the Chapel steps at noon.

The event is a show of solidarity with Burmese monks, who have been victims of violence by the Burmese military dictatorship, said senior Cristian Liu, president of ASA and a sponsor of the event.

"A lot of times people are stuck in the Duke bubble and they are not able to realize the other things going on in the world," he said. "We are all human in the end and if we don't do something we lose a part of ourselves."

Violence in Burma was sparked by a government increase in fuel prices August 22, The New York Times reported. Since then, the government of Burma, also known as Myanmar, has used increasingly violent methods to subdue protests by Buddhist monks and civilians. Internet access and cell-phone use have also been restricted by the government.

Rann Bar-On, a fifth-year mathematics graduate student, said he was inspired to organize the event when he received an e-mail from a Burmese friend last week. The friend, who is a Duke graduate from Burma, is currently in exile abroad and asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.

"I am writing this message to every e-mail address I got on my computer," the former student wrote in an e-mail to Bar-On. "I hope that you know that I am from Burma, and that Burma needs urgent help right now."

The Duke graduate said monks and other opponents of the government were being arrested or killed at random.

After receiving the e-mail, Bar-On contacted various student organizations to sponsor the vigil. He said he hoped Duke students could make a difference through their efforts.

"There is certainly interest, but we need more," Bar-On said. "The most important thing we can do is to raise awareness because we can't travel to Burma."

Student members of sponsoring organizations said they were willing to adopt the cause of the Buddhist monks.

"I was so warmed by Friday seeing everyone with their red shirts," said junior Mary Key, president of Amnesty International, adding that students donned the red shirts Friday as well in a show of support. "It was just really inspiring to see how many students on campus were interested."

The anonymous graduate said Duke fostered a personal passion for human rights activism. The graduate added that students and professors could carry on this commitment to human rights.

"I have faith that they would do all that they can to learn, to show solidarity and to help make a difference," the student wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle Sunday.

Fifth-year philosophy graduate student Andres Luco, the coordinator of the Human Rights Working Group, said other events will be planned for later this week. He added that the groups involved in the demonstration are looking for a speaker to answer students' questions about the situation.

"The plan right now is to raise awareness first, then to educate the general population and then put pressure on the Burmese government to change [its] policies," Liu said.


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