NPR logo Buddhist Monks Renew Marches in Myanmar


Buddhist Monks Renew Marches in Myanmar

More than 100 Buddhist monks marched peacefully in northern Myanmar on Wednesday, in the first such public demonstration since the country's military regime launched a bloody crackdown last month on pro-democracy activists, several monks said.

The monks in Pakokku shouted no slogans, but one monk told the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based short-wave radio station and Web site run by dissident journalists, that the demonstration was a continuation of the protests in September.

"We are continuing our protest from last month as we have not yet achieved any of the demands we asked for," the monk told Democratic Voice of Burma.

"Our demands are for lower commodity prices, national reconciliation and immediate release of (opposition leader) Aung San Suu Kyi and all the political prisoners," said the monk, who was not identified by name.

He said they had little time to organize, so the march was small, but "there will be more organized and bigger protests soon."

As many as 100,000 demonstrators turned out last month in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, before the protests were crushed by troops who fired on crowds Sept. 26-27. The crackdown left at least 10 people dead by the government's count, though opposition groups say as many as 200 were killed. The military junta's crushing move drew international condemnation.

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Pakokku, a center for Buddhist learning with more than 80 monasteries about 390 miles northwest of the commercial center of Yangon, was the site of the first march last month by monks as they joined - and then spearheaded - the biggest anti-government protests in nearly two decades.

The protests originally started Aug. 19, when ordinary citizens took to the streets to vent anger after the government hiked fuel prices as much as 500 percent. The rallies gained momentum when Buddhist monks in Pakokku joined the protests in early September.

Reports that troops had beaten protesting monks in Pakokku on Sept. 6 rallied monks around the country to join the burgeoning marches.

On Wednesday, the monks started out at Pakokku's Shwegu Pagoda, marching for nearly an hour and chanting Buddhist prayers without incident. They then returned to their respective monasteries, two monks said in telephone interviews, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The march came after a pro-junta rally in town. Opposition groups in exile claim such rallies are stage-managed by the government.

Historically, monks in Myanmar, who are revered in the country, have been at the forefront of protests, first against British colonialism and later military dictatorship.

They played a prominent part in the failed 1988 pro-democracy rebellion that sought an end to military rule, imposed since 1962. The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won. Suu Kyi has been detained under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press