25 September, 2007

When the 'Monks' Go Marching In

Open challenge: monks march against the armoured tanks and threats of the military junta

For the first time soldiers in uniform appear, after yesterday’s warning not to demonstrate. The international community fears a bloodbath and appeals to the Junta not to use force.

Thousands of monks challenged the stern warnings issued by the military junta, as they began a fresh day of protests marching towards the Shwedagong pagoda, surrounded by the army and military tanks.

After yesterdays massive demonstration which gathered between 50 and 100 thousand participants, military trucks took to the streets of the city threatening repressive measures against anyone who dares to take further part in the protests: “ We are warning the monks and the civilian population to stop protest marches…. we will take measures in conformity with the law”. The warnings and threats have been carried by International press controller by the junta.

These messages however fail to explain the form these measures will take, even if all involved fear that they will replicate ’88 when the military violently attacked a pro-democracy demonstration killing 3 thousand people.

Myanmar’s military junta on Tuesday threatened military force to disperse what it called unlawful protests and parked military trucks at Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda, the assembly point for the country’s biggest anti-government demonstrations in 20 years.

Nevertheless, protesters led by about 10,000 Buddhist monks chanting ”democracy, democracy” marched out of the Shwedagon Pagoda, now the symbolic heart of a growing campaign against 45 years of unbroken military rule in Myanmar.

”The streets are lined with people clapping and cheering them on,” but there was no sign of any soldiers, a witness told Reuters.

Earlier on Tuesday, loudspeaker vehicles cruising the streets of Rangoon, Myanmar’s biggest city, announced that monks had been ordered to stay out of politics.

”People are not to follow, encourage or take part in these marches. Action will be taken against those who violate this order,” the broadcasts said, invoking a law allowing the use of military force to break up illegal protests.

Myanmar ruling junta on Monday threatened to ”take action” against Buddhist monks who led the biggest protest in Rangoon in nearly 20 years, state media reported.

In the first official reaction to a week of escalating protests, it was reported that Brig Gen Thura Myint Maung had met senior clergy to deliver the warning.

According to state television, the minister said: ”If the monks go against the rules and regulations in the authority of the Buddhist teachings, we will take action under the existing law.”

In response to the demonstrations, the US is set to announce new sanctions against Myanmar’s military dictatorship and step up pressure for tougher action by the UN Security Council.

President George W. Bush will unveil the sanctions in a speech at the UN on Tuesday, said Stephen Hadley, White House national security adviser.

“He is going to announce that there will be additional sanctions directed at key members of the regime and those that provide financial support to them,” Mr Hadley told reporters.

As many as 100,000 people on Monday took to the streets of Rangoon in the largest demonstration seen in the country since the August 1988 pro-democracy protests that ended in a bloody crackdown.

Calls grew for the generals who govern Myanmar to maintain the restraint they have shown over the past week as daily protests against the economic hardship facing ordinary Burmese have grown.

”The government has so far behaved with commendable restraint,” Mark Canning, the British ambassador in Rangoon, told the Financial Times. But he added: ”This is gaining real momentum. There are some very powerful factors driving what is going on.”

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