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Myanmar Abolishes Order Banning Public Gatherings

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) â¿¿ Myanmar's new reformist government has abolished a 25-year-old ban on public gatherings of more than five people, state media reported Tuesday, ending a much-criticized order issued in 1988 on the day a military junta took power after crushing nationwide pro-democracy protests.

The state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported Tuesday that Order No 2/88 was abolished as it was not in line with a section of the constitution that says existing laws should remain valid as long as are not contrary to the constitution, which guarantees basic rights such as freedom of expression.

The order had been applied selectively as a tool to crush dissent against the military regimes that held sway until the elected government of President Thein Sein took office in 2011. His administration has instituted political liberalization, including the revocation of strict censorship.

The order had declared "Gathering or marching in processions and delivering speeches on the streets by a group of 5 or more people are banned." The junta used many catch-all or vaguely defined orders and laws as a means of suppressing dissent, and courts generally handed out stiff sentences, sending thousands of political prisoners into jails around the country. Most have been freed under amnesties promulgated by Thein Sein.

In December 2011, a "Peaceful Assembly Law" was implemented specifically allowing public protests. However, permission must be obtained in advance, without which organizers are subject to penalties including prison terms. Several people have been arrested under the statute.

Exercise of the new-won freedoms has tested the patience of the authorities. Last year, sensationalistic photos and stories in the press threatened to exacerbate already deep tensions triggered by violent clashes between two separate ethnic communities in western Myanmar.

A defense ministry statement published in state newspaper Tuesday blamed unspecified embassies, organizations and media of releasing news and announcements that could cause misunderstanding of the military and the government in connection with fighting against guerrillas of the Kachin ethnic minority in the north.

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