Associated Press
YANGON, Myanmar – More than 100 Buddhist monks marched peacefully Wednesday in a northern Myanmar town noted for its defiance of the country’s military rulers, the first large protest since the junta violently crushed a wave anti-government demonstrations.
The monks marched for nearly an hour in the town of Pakokku, chanting a Buddhist prayer that has come to be associated with the pro-democracy cause. They did not carry signs or shout slogans, but their action was clearly in defiance of the military government, as one monk spelled out in a radio interview.

“We are continuing our protest from last month as we have not yet achieved any of the demands we asked for,” the monk told the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based short-wave radio station and Web site run by dissident journalists.
“Our demands are for lower commodity prices, national reconciliation and immediate release of (pro-democracy leader) Aung San Suu Kyi and all the political prisoners,” said the monk, who was not identified by name.
He said they had little time to organize the march so it was small. But “there will be more organized and bigger protests soon.” After marching without interference, the monks returned to their respective monasteries, two of those who took part said in telephone interviews.
Pakokku, a center for Buddhist learning with more than 80 monasteries about 390 miles northwest of the commercial center Yangon, was the scene of one of the first of the recent anti-government marches by monks on their own.
Troops fired in the air to break up the Sept. 5 march, and allowed members of pro-government associations to kick and beat several monks. The following day, the irate young monks took several officials hostage for several hours and demanded an apology, a cause that rallied other monks around the country to join the burgeoning marches in the weeks that followed.
Up to 100,000 people eventually took part in the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in Yangon that were crushed when troops fired on protesters on Sept. 26-27, leaving at least 10 people dead by the government’s count. Opposition groups say as many as 200 people may have been killed. The government acknowledges rounding up thousands, though it says most have now been released.
The crackdown left the public in a state of shock and fear, giving the impression that further protests were unlikely in the immediate future.
But the situation remains volatile because of widespread anger over the government’s strong-arm tactics, especially because they were used against monks who are highly respected.
“A lot of people are angry, and frustration is going to grow,” said David Steinberg, a Myanmar scholar from Georgetown University who visited the country two weeks ago. “The military don’t know it, won’t recognize it, or won’t admit to it.”
“I find it somewhat surprising not they marched, but that the military let them,” he said of Wednesday’s protest.
Also Wednesday, the United Nations said U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari will return to Myanmar on Saturday to promote talks between the government and opposition and to press for national reconciliation and a stepped-up transition to democracy.
Gambari was sent to Myanmar after the crackdown and he met with junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe. He also met twice with detained opposition leader Suu Kyi.
The recent protests started Aug. 19, when ordinary citizens took to the streets to vent anger after the government increased fuel prices as much as 500 percent. The number of participants had lagged in the face of government intimidation until monks joined the cause after the Pakokku incidents.
When monks hit the streets in Yangon – and initially were allowed to march unmolested by the authorities – the movement mushroomed, until it reached a size where the junta decided to end it by force.
Another Myanmar scholar, Josef Silverstein, a retired professor from Rutgers University, said the new march in Pakokku suggested there was no national or regional organization of monks coordinating the protests.
He said he suspected the government feels it has won its battle with the pro-democracy movement, and therefore could tolerate Wednesday’s march.
Historically, monks in Myanmar have been at the forefront of protests, first against British colonialism and later military dictatorship. They played a prominent part in a failed 1988 pro-democracy rebellion that sought an end to military rule, imposed since 1962.
The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been detained under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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