Heart-wrenching messages of fear, love and despair, sent by high school students from a sinking South Korean ferry added extra emotional weight Thursday to a tragedy that has stunned the entire nation.
Nine held after rare protest attempt in Laos: Amnesty
Nine people are being held by communist authorities in Laos after attempting to stage an extremely rare protest, Amnesty International said in a statement received Thursday.
The nine were arrested on November 2 when security forces rounded up more than 300 farmers and others planning to submit petitions to officials in the capital Vientiane, the London-based watchdog said.
"The petitions related to grievances over loss of land, and lack of economic and social support," Amnesty said.
The peaceful petitioners were travelling to the capital from different parts of the country and were arrested on the way to Vientiane or in the capital itself, the statement said.
All but nine were released after questioning but the whereabouts of those still held are unknown, Amnesty said, identifying the detainees by name and calling for their release.
The government's spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Amnesty said the last known attempt to stage a public, peaceful protest in Vientiane came in October 1999. At least three former students arrested at that time remain in prison and one died in detention, it said.
"Since then, the Lao authorities have continued to deny its citizens the rights to peaceful protest and assembly guaranteed under international human rights law," said Amnesty.
The European Parliament, in a November 26 resolution, called for the unconditional release of "all those people arrested during the attempted peaceful demonstration on 2 November 2009".
Like Amnesty, the European Parliament said nine of an initial 300 people detained were still being held. But it said they had planned a peaceful demonstration "to demand respect for human rights and a multiparty system" in memory of the crackdown 10 years earlier.
Residents of Vientiane on Thursday reported tight security a day after the 25th Southeast Asian Games opened for regional athletes.
Laos has built new venues and infrastructure to host the games, a showcase for the nation of about seven million people which is one of Asia's poorest.
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