BANGKOK (AP) — A pageant contestant from Myanmar has used her moment in the spotlight to appeal for urgent international help for her country as security forces suppressing protests against last month's coup killed more than 100 people.
Yangon University student Han Lay made the comments Saturday night at the Miss Grand International pageant held in the Thai capital Bangkok. As she was speaking news was coming out from across the border in Myanmar that at least 114 people had been killed in the bloodiest day since the Feb. 1 coup.
Han Lay had made no secret of her sympathies in a publicity video interview two weeks ago and on her Instagram page, which shows memes and photos from the protest movement in her homeland. Yet it was still surprising to see a contestant at an international pageant use the event to in part criticize her own country's leaders.
“I deeply feel sorry for the people who have lost their lives on the streets. Every citizen of the world wants the prosperity of their country and the peaceful environment. In doing so, the leaders involved should not use their power and selfishness to apply,” she said.
“Today in my country, Myanmar, while I am going to be on this stage, there are so many people dying, more than 100 people died today. I am deeply be sorry for all the people who have lost their lives,” she went on, pausing frequently to fight back tears.
“I want to say for here that, please help Myanmar. We need your urgent international help right now.”
Saturday’s bloodshed in Myanmar quickly drew international condemnation, both from diplomatic missions within Myanmar and from abroad.
Other high-profile Myanmar people have used international platforms to criticize the coup and the new junta running the country.
Several Myanmar diplomats abroad have said they are loyal to an alternative underground self-proclaimed government set up by elected lawmakers who were not allowed to take their seats in Parliament when the army staged its coup.
The highest profile defection was Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s representative at the United Nations, who declared his new loyalties at an official session of the world body and flashed the three-finger salute of the protest movement at the end of his remarks.
Inside Myanmar, celebrities from the world of modeling and entertainment added a bit of glamour to the protest movement before the government unleashed lethal violence on it.
The government last month issued arrest warrants for several well-known actors and directors who been publicly supportive of the protests, charging them under a public order law that carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.
It was also significant that Han Lay's call for action at the Miss Grand International pageant came from within Thailand. Thailand hosts as many as 4 million migrant workers from Myanmar, many of whom are sympathetic with the protest movement, but fear their jobs might be in jeopardy if they speak out as Thai officials have warned them not to be politically active.