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Myanmar crowds cheer protesting monks

Hundreds of defiant monks marched through Yangon on Tuesday, walking 10 miles through streets lined with cheering crowds, after being barred from Myanmar's most important Buddhist temple, witnesses said.
Buddhist monks march whilst chanting prayers and holy scriptures in Yangon
Buddhist monks march while chanting prayers and holy scriptures in Yangon, Myanmar, on Tuesday.Democratic Voice Of Burma / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hundreds of defiant monks marched through the capital Yangon on Tuesday, walking 10 miles through streets lined with cheering crowds, after being barred from Myanmar's most important Buddhist temple, witnesses said.

The marches were the latest in a series of anti-government protests, which began Aug. 19 after authorities raised fuel prices by as much as 500 percent, putting the squeeze on already impoverished citizens. The protests have continued despite the detention of more than 100 demonstrators and the rough treatment of others.

At least 400 saffron-robed monks, walking in rows of two and three and cheered on by thousands of onlookers offering water, were locked out of Yangon's famous Shwedagon pagoda and then both the Sule and Botataung pagodas. After pro-junta civilians and plainclothes police intervened, the monks sat in the street and chanted before returning to monasteries.

Some senior monks — generally seen as more conservative — also asked the group of mostly young monks to end their march. The two groups argued but finally the procession continued.

Meanwhile, in the city of Bago about 50 miles away, another 1,000 monks peacefully marched to the Shwemawdaw pagoda, residents said. Witnesses in both cities spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Soldiers and armed police were deployed near some major monasteries with truckloads of barbed wire barricades waiting nearby.

Journalists roughed upSupporters of the country's junta government snatched video and still cameras from some journalists and attempted to seize one journalist and force him into a truck, witnesses said.

No one was arrested in Tuesday's marches, and both ended peacefully.

The monks gave authorities a Monday deadline to apologize for beating hundreds of them two weeks ago when they marched peacefully in Pakokku, a center of Buddhist learning, to protest the rising fuel and consumer prices. The apology never came.

"We are grateful to the monks for making good on their promise despite heavy security presence and obstacles," said a man who followed the monks throughout the march. He refused to give his name for fear of reprisal.

In addition to the protests, monks threatened to cut off contact with the military and their families, and to refuse alms from them — a humiliating gesture that would embarrass the junta.

19th anniversary of coup
Monks have been at the forefront of political protests in Myanmar, also known as Burma, since British colonial times. Because they are so revered by the public, repressing them is politically risky. The junta is wary that demonstrations could gain momentum.

Tuesday's marches also marked the 19th anniversary of the coup in Myanmar, in which the current junta took over after crushing a failed pro-democracy rebellion that sought an end to military rule, imposed since 1962. The anniversary was also commemorated by protesters in the Philippines, India and New Zealand.

The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won. Suu Kyi has been detained under house arrest for more than 11 years.