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Thousands of Burmese Join Monks in Massive Protest

Tens of thousands of people in Burma have joined Buddhist monks in marching through the main city, Rangoon, for another day of protests. VOA's Luis Ramirez at our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok reports on the growing challenge to Burma's military junta.

Thousands of ordinary people joined the monks in marching from the Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma's most sacred shrine, through Rangoon's city center. The demonstrations have grown, despite rumors that government forces might soon begin a massive crackdown. Some estimates put the number of protesters Monday at 100,000.

The mounting defiance is raising international concerns that the rumors of a crackdown might come true.

In the past, Burma's military rulers have not hesitated to use force to suppress uprisings. The last major protest was in 1988, when about 3,000 people died at the hands of government forces.

On Monday, the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, a group of parliamentarians from neighboring countries based in Kuala Lumpur, issued a statement urging the United Nations Security Council to take action to prevent bloodshed in Burma.

The group's executive director, Roshan Jason, says some legislators in the region believe the time has come for Burma's neighbors and the international community in general to take stronger action against the military leadership, which has controlled the country since 1962.

"The approach of ASEAN countries and a few other nations has been [the] constructive engagement approach, which clearly, to any right-minded person, [we] can say has failed," said Jason. "ASEAN's approach has been a bit of a naive approach [and] at the same time a bit of an irresponsible approach to the situation. What is needed is something a lot more concrete, a lot more aggressive, a lot more realistic."

The monks launched their protest a week ago after the government failed to apologize for the beatings of some monks during a demonstration in the central city of Pakkoku three weeks ago. In the past few days, more and more Burmese citizens have joined the monks' peaceful marches.

Protests across the impoverished country started last month when the government imposed steep increases in the price of fuel.

Analysts say the army has refrained from launching an all-out crackdown because monks are the most respected members of Burmese society and attacking them would cause widespread public outrage.

On Monday, some of Burma's top celebrities joined in urging support for the monks and pro-democracy demonstrations.