Burma's former leader said Friday he has formed a rival government to take power from the forces that ousted him 26 years ago and imposed single-party rule. About 500 soldiers mutinied and joined the ranks of protesters demonstrating for democracy.
Former Prime Minister U Nu, in a letter distributed to diplomatic missions, also announced that general elections will be Oct. 9 and unveiled a 26-member cabinet with himself as prime minister, former president Mahn Win Maung as president and retired Gen. Tin Oo as defense minister.There was no immediate reaction to the move, which is regarded as high treason under current law, from the government of President Maung Maung or the military. But one prominent opposition figure, not included in the cabinet, called the move "preposterous."
The mutinies from the military and U Nu's declaration came one day after about 1 million people surged through the city of Rangoon in the largest anti-government protest since Aug. 21.
As a precautionary measure, embassies and other foreign organizations evacuated more than 230 dependents and non-essential staffers aboard a commercial Thai aircraft to Bangkok, Thailand. According to diplomats, the evacuees included 46 Americans, 29 Thais, 28 South Koreans, 13 British citizens, two Russians and others from Japan and Australia.
"Foreigners are not in danger at present but life is very difficult," said one World Bank official who arrived in Bangkok. "There's no fuel and less and less food." The evacuations are scheduled to continue Saturday.
About 400 air force personnel along with about 100 from the navy and army marched in a student-led demonstration and called on a large contingent of troops inside City Hall to join them. They received no response.
Most of the deserters were enlisted men but reporters saw several officers of lieutenant rank. There have been numerous reports of military defections to protesters seeking to toppled the authoritarian system, but this was the first time a large group was seen in the capital defying the government.
About 200 of the mutinous soldiers joined student leaders at Rangoon University. "We side with democracy and not with fascists!" and "Our military training is not to shoot people!" the rebel soldiers shouted.