Hundreds of Buddhist monks have taken to the streets of Burma's main city, Rangoon - the latest in a wave of demonstrations against the military government during the past month.  VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.

 The monks defied orders by Burma's military rulers to refrain from demonstrating.  Witnesses say hundreds of them, cloaked in cinnamon-colored robes, marched quietly through the streets of Rangoon as security forces - including plainclothes police - looked on.

Analysts say the monks' defiance of the authorities is a dangerous sign for the ruling generals in a devoutly Buddhist country where monks are society's most respected figures.  Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst exiled in Thailand says the monks are perhaps the biggest political challenge facing the junta. 

"The military should be really, really worried because something like this can trigger wider political protest," he said.

Demonstrations have been going on since last month when the government imposed steep hikes in the cost of fuel.  The hikes triggered anger among the poor in a country where the per-capita income is less than $200 a year.

Activists say the monks are demanding an apology from the government after members of security forces and their supporters beat demonstrators - who included several monks - at a protest over the price increases in the central Burmese town of Pakokku two weeks ago. 

Reports from Burma say the monks have threatened to cut off contact with members of the military junta and refuse to receive alms from them.  Aung Naing Oo says such gestures from the country's religious leaders would be deeply embarrassing and possibly destabilizing for the military.

"If the monks stop administering religious rites to the military and the military's families, there will be tremendous effects," he said. "The wives will complain, the ordinary soldiers will complain, so the military has to pay really close attention to what the monks are doing right now."

Observers say Burma's military rulers will have to weigh carefully whether to use force to stop the monks from demonstrating, a decision that could backfire and trigger even more protests.

In the past, monks have had key roles in opposition efforts.  In 1988, they helped rally support for pro-democracy demonstrations that swept the country.  Those protests ended with a government crackdown that killed about 3,000 people.