Burma monks maintain nonviolent resistance in the face of attacks

By staff writers
September 26, 2007

Thousands of Burmese monks and other protesters have begun a new march with prayers and chants in Rangoon, despite a baton charge by police at the city's holiest shrine. Supporters say the tide of nonviolent resistance must continue.

Police had charged the crowd outside the Shwedagon Pagoda as demonstrators met for a ninth day of marching and warning shots were fired at another site.

Earlier, state TV announcers emphasised the illegality of popular protest under the harsh restrictions imposed by the military dictatorship

The latest march is heading towards the home of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi - who has been moved to a notorious prison camp. People have come out onto the streets to cheer the monks and many are joining them. Police and troops are surrounding key Buddhist sites around the city.

Observers fear a repeat of the violence in 1988, when troops opened fire on unarmed protestors, killing thousands. But the style of the demonstrations led by the monks is quite different from that of the students 19 years ago.

Analysts say that the world's watching media and the pressure of the international community, as well as the holy and revered status of the monks and their nonviolent tactics, are making a big difference this time. There is hope that the military regime is under real pressure for change.

Two key dissidents, activist U Win Naing and popular comedian Zaganar, were arrested late on Tuesday night (25 September 2007). The atmosphere in Rangoon is described by eyewitnesses as extremely tense, the BBC's Jonathan Head reported last night from Bangkok.

Up to 5,000 monks and other protesters are on the march through Rangoon, some of them wearing surgical masks in anticipation of the security forces using tear gas. They are urging people not to become violent and angry, in spite of the provocations of the security forces.

The monks and members of the public are defying a ban on all public gatherings of more than five people by their actions.

Some demonstrators have been beaten and dragged away in trucks and dozens were arrested.

"The riot police started to beat up the monks," one monk at Shwedagon Pagoda told the BBC. "We were peacefully chanting prayers. They used tear gas and some monks were hit. Some monks were injured."

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