Thursday, September 20, 2007

Burmese Monks in Pagoda Protest

Hundreds of Buddhist monks have marched around Burma's most revered temple, in a third consecutive day of protests against the military government.

The monks were allowed into the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon for the first time since their protests began.

They walked through the city surrounded by a human chain of civilians holding hands to protect them.

They want a government apology for the violent break-up of a recent rally, triggered by protests over price rises.

Dozens of plainclothes police officers followed the monks with video cameras as they marched towards the temple, witnesses said.

The pagoda, which dominates the former capital, was also surrounded by dozens of plainclothes security officials and riot police trucks were on standby.

Once inside, the Buddhist monks held prayers, the Reuters news agency reported, then marched towards the Sule Pagoda downtown, before the protest finished.

They were watched by hundreds of onlookers, who clapped and smiled, witnesses said.

'Serious challenge'

The monks' activities have given new life to persistent protests that began after shock fuel price rises last month, which have led to a sharp rise in the price of consumer goods.

The monks have asked civilians not to join them for fear of provoking reprisals by the security forces. Many activists have been jailed and some have allegedly been tortured for participating in earlier protests.

On Wednesday, hundreds of monks marched through Sittwe, Mandalay and Rangoon.

They were calling for the release of four of their fellow monks arrested during protests on Tuesday, which were violently dispersed by the security forces.

One Rangoon-based group, the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks, has asked its followers across the country to refuse alms and offerings from anyone connected to the military.

The monks' protests represent one of the most serious challenges yet faced by Burma's military rulers, says the BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head.

Monks are highly respected figures in Burmese society, and were key players in mass protests staged in 1988, which were violently put down by the military regime.

This time the military has held off perhaps because they are wary of stirring up more public anger in a country already enraged over years of economic hardship, our correspondent adds.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/09/20 14:26:54 GMT

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