Anarchy in Burma's cities after weeks of violent protests has left both the besieged regime and its street antagonists slightly rudderless. To recover direction, student-led protesters plan to reopen Rangoon University themselves today - a defiant act likely to be backed by the school's teachers, report Western diplomats in Rangoon, the capital.
After giant rallies last week, in which two opposition figures emerged amid calls for democracy, leaders of the antigovernment urban uprisings appear to have no plans for new protests.
The question, the diplomats say, is whether the people will put off further protests until the country's one-and-only ruling party meets Sept. 12. The Burma Socialist Program Party plans to decide then if a referendum should be held to create a multiparty political system, like the one destroyed by a 1962 coup.
``The social structure doesn't allow for a multiparty system,'' says University of London's Robert Taylor, a noted scholar on Burma. ``The students know what they want. I don't think they can get it.''
The government, led by newly installed legal scholar U Maung Maung, had withdrawn security forces from most streets in Rangoon, but appeared unable to control widespread looting, a breakdown of most civil administration, and at least three prison uprisings.
At Burma's largest jail, various reports indicate anywhere from dozens to hundreds of inmates were killed when guards opened fire during a mass jailbreak, triggered by the outside demonstrations. Similar incidents were reported at two other prisons. Burmese officials claim they have released 2,750 people, detained during this month's protests, before the prison killings took place.
The focus for student demands is the rebuilding of Rangoon University's student union, destroyed after the 1962 coup. On Sunday, about 100,000 people met near the university, and the union was unilaterally declared reopened.
Coup leader U Ne Win, who resigned on July 23 after 26 years in power, has revived a debate over who ordered the student union to be attacked, in which a number of students were killed.
The issue is important to Mr. Ne Win, whom most diplomats assume still controls the military, because he claims that his chief rival during the past five months of protests was responsible for the attack, and not him.
Ne Win spent much of his resignation speech last month reciting his version of the event: ``Only after I had heard the sound of a massive explosion and the accompanying tremor on the morning of July 8  did I enquire and learn that the union building had been destroyed by dynamite.''
That rival is former general Aung Gyi, who split from Ne Win soon after the 1962 coup, and came back to public attention early this year by releasing a series of letters to his former colleague. Aung Gyi, said Ne Win, has exploited the student union issue in ``inciting the people to rise up, divide and destroy outright the country's three main forces: the people, the armed forces, and the national leaders.''
In his letters, Aung Gyi criticized Ne Win for Burma's political and economic deterioration, saying the country had become an ``animal kingdom.'' The comments landed him in jail for a couple of weeks until last Thursday.
Diplomats say Aung Gyi met with the new leader, Mr. Maung Maung, last Tuesday. Upon his release, he addressed an estimated 100,000 protesters near his home, although diplomats say he has not yet been a rallying point because of his role in the coup. But his letters have created divisions within ruling circles, say diplomats.
Also making a debut as an oppositionist was Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burma's national hero. Returning from her home in London, the Burmese scholar spoke Friday before an estimated 400,000 people in a rain-drenched protest near Rangoon's sacred Shwedagon pagoda. She called for a peaceful transition to a new political system, a point that could quell protests. She also called for an interim government ``to hold general elections as soon as possible.''
Two other opposition leaders have also spoken out. Tin U, a once-famous Army chief of staff who was jailed in the mid-70s for condoning an attempted coup against Ne Win, also called for an interim government of ``well-known patriots.'' A former premier from the 1950s, U Nu, reportedly offered to mediate between students and the government. Ne Win said last month that the party should have ``no hesitation in the handing over of duties'' if the people choose a new form of government.
Acute shortages of rice in the cities, a factor which helped precipitate the riots, has resulted in much looting of stores.
``Citizen committees,'' including Buddhist monks, have begun to run many neighborhoods, diplomats report.