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Burma's horrorscopes

We’re accustomed to good old-fashioned despots driven by banal desires such as insatiable greed and a lust for power; but add a soupçon of superstition and you have the Burmese junta. These chaps are no ordinary garden variety psychopaths hell-bent on oppressing the populace for personal gain, no... they actually make decisions based on their obsession with the occult.

The decision a few years ago to move the capital from Rangoon to a malaria and snake-infested swamp in the highlands was apparently at the behest of head dictator Than Shwe’s fortune teller – rumoured to be a deaf-mute soothsayer nicknamed ‘ET’ because of her resemblance to the famous extraterrestrial.

And the trend is not peculiar to the current ruling ‘State Peace and Development Council’ (SPDC). In the late 1980s, former military dictator Ne Win invalidated the 100 kyat note and replaced the currency with 45 and 90 kyat bills instead (any number divisible by 9 is said to be auspicious); thus wiping out many people’s savings in one fell swoop and prompting a wave of public protests.

Pro-democracy activists are, however, making use of the junta’s penchant for the paranormal. Apparently, the macho generals are so terrified of women’s undergarments that they believe that just touching them (clean or used) would sap them of their power. According to the ‘Panties for Peace’ campaign: ‘This is your chance to use your Panty Power to take away the power from the SPDC. You can post, deliver or fling your panties at the closest Burmese Embassy any day from today. Send early, send often.’

New Internationalist issue 407 magazine cover This article is from the December 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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