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Buddhist Monks Stage More Anti-Government Protests in Burma


Hundreds of monks have marched through several cities in Burma for a second day this week, protesting the country's military leadership. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.

The protests Wednesday came as the military government acknowledged its forces used tear gas and fired warning shots to disperse monks who marched in the western Burmese city of Sittwe the day before.

In the country's largest city, Rangoon, hundreds of monks marched quietly Wednesday to the Shwedagon pagoda, considered Burma's holiest temple. They did not go in. Witnesses say authorities locked up the shrine in an apparent effort to put a damper on the demonstration.

The monks are angry because the government has failed to apologize for the beatings of several monks who were part of a demonstration two weeks ago. The marches are part of nationwide protests that began last month after the military rulers imposed big increases in the price of fuel in the impoverished country.

Analysts say the junta has reason to be alarmed now that protests by Buddhist monks are spreading. Monks are considered the most respected members of Burmese society, and word that they would stop accepting alms from anyone connected to the military leadership could be embarrassing and destabilizing. Furthermore, physical suppression of the monks' protests would be sacrilegious for Burmese soldiers who - like the vast majority of Burma's people - are devout Buddhists. Myint Wai is a Burmese pro-democracy activist exiled in Thailand.

"If they violently attack the monks, in the Buddhist religion they [would be making] a very big mistake according to the Buddhist teachings," Myint said. "In our beliefs, they will have to face punishment in the next life. It is a very big mistake for Buddhists."

A state-run newspaper says security forces fired tear gas and warning shots when monks protesting on Tuesday became violent. The newspaper says nine policemen were hurt in a clash with the monks.

The statements have not been not independently confirmed.

Burma's military has been in control of the country since 1962 and has, in the past, called in the army to quell dissent. The last major demonstrations were in 1988, when soldiers used tanks and guns to put down pro-democracy protests in which Buddhist monks played a key role. About 3,000 people were killed in the crackdown.

This time, more than 100 activists have been arrested, but observers say the junta has refrained from launching an all-out crackdown. Analysts say an attack on monks would likely trigger a wave of outrage that government forces might not be able to contain.

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