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Myanmar protesters call for end to repression and arrests

YANGON -- Several thousand people joined a rally in Myanmar's main city on Sunday to call for the abolition of repressive laws and an end to politically related arrests.

The crowd gathered for about two hours near Yangon City Hall, chanting slogans such as “Give citizens full rights!” and “Freedom!”

Myanmar said on Dec. 31, 2013 that it was releasing its last remaining political prisoners under a sweeping amnesty.

But about 35 political detainees remain locked up despite the pardon, according to activist Pyone Cho of the 88 Generation group which organized the rally.

“We do not accept any kind of political arrest,” Pyone Cho told AFP.

President Thein Sein, a former general, has won international praise and the removal of most western sanctions for overseeing new political and civil freedoms.

He had vowed to free all political prisoners by the end of 2013 and it is unclear why some apparently remain behind bars.

Arbitrary imprisonment was a hallmark of nearly half a century of harsh rule by a junta that denied the existence of political detainees, even as it imposed harsh punishments on rights activists, journalists, lawyers and performers.

Before Myanmar's reforms, rights groups accused the country of holding about 2,000 political prisoners.

Campaigners fear authorities could continue to detain critics in the future, and remain concerned about legislation that forbids protests without permission.

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