Over 100,000 people in Rangoon and parts of Burma protest
Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)
September 24, 2007 - Over 10,000 Buddhist monks and more than 1, 00,000 civilians today took to the streets in the largest protest in two decades, in repressive military-ruled Burma.
The protest, which the monks have been carrying out for a straight week, on Monday turned out into a major outburst of political dissent with protesters demanding the immediate release of pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 12 of the past 18 years.
Protesters, both monks and civilians, also demanded that the ruling junta to immediately release all political prisoners and begin a dialogue that could kick-start national reconciliation in the impoverished country.
Observers said today's protest is obviously the biggest and the number is likely to increase in the coming days as the protesters have vowed to continue to go ahead, as the ruling junta showed no signs of responding, in whatever form, to the protests.
At least hundreds of thousands, monks, nuns and civilians, gathered this afternoon at Sule pagoda and shouted anti-government slogans with occasional applauding that reverberated in downtown Rangoon.
Sporadic protests in Rangoon and parts of Burma started following the government's decision to hike fuel price unannounced in mid-august. Prominent student leaders, known as 88 generation student groups, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi on August 19 led the first peaceful protests.
Following the march, 15 key student leaders were arrested on August 21. However, the protests continued and spread to other parts of Burma. The ruling junta, which has a track record of brutally crushing any movement of dissent, resorted to deploying thugs and members of its civilian organization – Union Solidarity and Development Association and Swan Arr Shin, a para militia group – to crackdown on protesters.
However, the protest took a different turn when junta-backed thugs on September 5, brutally cracked down on monks, who were peacefully marching and chanting Metta Sutta (Buddhist word for loving kindness).
Buddhist monks then onwards formed a united front and demanded the government apologize for its high-handedness on monks. Eventually, with the junta failing to appease the monks, the clergy began a nation-wide boycott and overturning of alms bowls against the ruling junta.
The protesting monks, who initially left civilians out of the protests, have called on all citizens of Burma from all walks of life to join a public rally.
Monks, however, led today's protest and formed four major groups marching through the city in different directions. And sources said it is likely to continue in the coming days.
While there is no visible increase in security in other parts of Rangoon, the junta has tightened security on the road in front of the residence of detained Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi oin University Avenue, in a bid to prevent protesters from coming near the residence.
Eyewitnesses said hundreds of riot police were placed behind barbed wire barricades and two fire engines block each end of the road.
On Saturday, about 400 monks marched towards the lakeside villa of detained Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and for about 15 minutes staged a protest in front of the house.
Eyewitnesses said, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was seen in tears standing behind the security personnel guarding her at the gates.
Meanwhile, monks and civilians in more than 15 towns and cities across Burma took to the streets for the nation-wide protests.
While monks in several towns including Mandalay, Pakhokku, Monywa, Daike Oo, Aunglan, Yezagyo, Sittwe, Mogoke, Myitkyina, Kalaymyo and Kwanchankone continued their protests, monks in Natmauk, the birth place of Burma's independence hero Gen Aung San, Moulmein, and Sinphyukyun joined for the first time.