Hundreds of Buddhist monks marched in Yangon, Myanmar, for a fourth day to protest the country's military government, sparking international concern over a possible crackdown.
The monks began Friday's march at the golden hilltop Shwedagon Pagoda, a religious center and historical focal point for social and political protests, and walked into the capital city's downtown district. Along the way, they were joined by thousands of supporters, many of whom linked arms to form a human chain.
Government security forces kept their distance, but Ibrahim Gambari, U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, told the Security Council that he has "serious concerns" about the recent protests and the government's reaction.
"Undoubtedly, the developments over the last few weeks in Myanmar have raised serious concerns in the international community and once again underscore the urgency to step up our efforts to find solutions to the challenges facing the country," Gambari told the council, according to a U.N. account of the closed session.
Gambari told the council he plans to visit Myanmar, also known as Burma, but has set no date.
The latest protest movement began Aug. 19 after the government raised fuel prices. It intensified when the monks joined, reflecting long pent-up opposition to the repressive military regime.
The monks launched the latest demonstrations on Tuesday, after the junta failed to apologize by a Monday deadline for allegedly roughing up monks during a Sept. 5 protest in the northern Myanmar town of Pakokku.
Authorities have so far detained about a dozen top pro-democracy leaders, as well as more than 100 other protesters.
The government said it would not declare a state of emergency in response to the most sustained challenge to its rule since student demonstrations were forcibly suppressed in December 1996.
"The Myanmar government will not declare a state of emergency. You can see the government handles the situation peacefully," the Information Ministry's Ye Htut said Thursday.
He said that any rumors to the contrary were used by the junta's opponents "to destabilize the situation."
The international community, he said, "should see their hidden agenda and stop hailing them as democracy activists."
The Shwedagon Pagoda, which has served as a gathering place for the protesters, is best remembered as the site of an Aug. 26, 1988, rally where Burmese revolutionary Aung San's daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, took up leadership of a pro-democracy movement.
The 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations were crushed by the military, and Suu Kyi has spent 11 of the past 18 years in detention.
Local journalists covering the recent protests have reported that they have been harassed and had their equipment stolen. The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders on Friday called the harassment a strategy aimed at preventing the journalists from doing their jobs.
The press freedom group also said the protests have been accompanied by an increase in censorship and propaganda in the media.
"The censorship bureau has systematically rejected articles in which the protests against cost of living increases have been covered in an independent manner," the group said in a statement.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press