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Thousands of Burmese Monks Resume Protests in Defiance of Government Warnings


Thousands of monks and other protesters have been marching again in Burma, despite warnings from the military government for them to stop their weeklong peaceful demonstrations. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.

Soldiers took up positions around Rangoon's Shwedagon Pagoda, a Buddhist shrine that has become the focal point of the demonstrations.

Witnesses say thousands of monks marched through Rangoon for an eighth day Tuesday, joined by thousands of supporters. Marches were reported in other cities also.

The state media have warned people to end the protests or face possible military action.

Some rights activists say the military government may see itself as having no choice but to crack down on the demonstrators. Debbie Stothard is with the ALTSEAN Regional Human Rights Network in Bangkok.

"If they allow the protests to continue, even under controlled circumstances, it will actually help build momentum in the movement and embolden more and more people to come out and stand for their rights," Stothard said. "If they crack down harshly on the monks, there will be such a public backlash that they will have their backs to the wall."

The government has refused to negotiate or bow to the demands of the monks, who want an apology for the beating and arrest of several monks at a protest three weeks ago. They also want the junta to roll back the steep fuel price increases that touched off the demonstrations in the first place, and for the government to release political prisoners.

Stothard says the demonstrations have persisted and spread in part because of new technologies - such as camera phones and Web-casting - to relay news.

"We actually are seeing an unprecedented wave of media technology being used in Burma and we're seeing this not just in Rangoon but also in Mandalay, in other parts, other states and divisions in Burma," she said. "So, the eyes of the international community are firmly on Burma but this information is also being broadcast back into Burma to the general population through radio services such as the Voice of America and other radio stations and that has actually helped the people of Burma to be better informed."

International pressure is mounting on Burma's government, considered one of the most repressive in the world. The United States has called on the government to exercise restraint in the face of the protests and to release those who have been imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views.

President Bush is going to announce new sanctions against Burma when he speaks at the U.N. General Assembly. Officials say the new measures will include a ban on U.S. visas for key Burmese officials and their families.

The U.N. secretary-general on Monday urged the junta to continue to exercise restraint. He said he hopes the Burmese leaders will seize this opportunity to engage in dialogue.

On Tuesday, the Chinese government, which has long been an ally of Burma, called for stability and economic development in the country.

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