Hundreds of protesting Buddhist monks marched past the home of Burma's detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in Rangoon Saturday, in a further challenge to the country's military leadership. As Ron Corben reports from VOA's Bangkok bureau, the protests that began last week show no signs of ending.
Several hundred Buddhist monks passed through military barricades to the road entrance of Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to witnesses.
Witnesses say Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, came to the gates of her University Avenue compound, where the monks said prayers before leaving.
In the central northern city of Mandalay, witnesses said, an estimated 10,000 people, including about 4,000 monks, marched through the streets, making it one of the largest demonstrations against the military government since a 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Those protests were violently put down by the military, leaving hundreds dead and injured.
Debbit Stothardt, spokeswoman for the human rights group the Alternative ASEAN network on Burma, said the march to Aung San Suu Kyi's residence marked a significant development.
"It is very significant that the monks have been able to get through the barricades to pay Aung San Suu Kyi a visit, and it's extremely significant that Aung San Suu Kyi came out and paid homage to them," she said. "It is quite clear now that what the monks are doing has not just a spiritual legitimacy, but a political legitimacy."
In a written statement released after the march, a group calling itself the All Burma Monks Alliance, urged citizens to join with the monks' protest against the military government. Burma's military has been in power since 1962.
Protests began last month, after the military sharply increased fuel prices. The initial wave of protests by civilian Burmese led to many arrests and injuries after beatings by pro-government gangs. In recent days, the Buddhist monks, deeply respected in the country, began marching.
Stothardt says the hardline military is now under pressure.
"This is a public confrontation against the military of Burma that has not happened since 1988," she said. "Basically, the army is in a 'lose-lose' situation. If they crack down on the monks now, it is going to cause such a backlash internationally and domestically."
The military has said it has been moving the country toward democracy after a constitutional assembly recently completed the drafting of a new charter. The military says the new constitution will lead to fresh general elections, but no date has been set.
In May 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in general elections, but the party was never able to assume power.
Human rights groups say there are some 1,100 pro-democracy activists being held in jail or under house arrest throughout the country.