Monk-led protest marches in Burma against the country's brutal military
government were today reported to have quadrupled in size, as up to 100,000
took to the streets to call for freedom and democracy.
Onlookers cheered and shouted support as between 10,000 and 20,000 monks in
maroon robes with saffron sashes marched on routes through Rangoon, the
country's largest city.
Today, for the first time, a minister from the ruling junta warned that action
would be taken against the monks if they continued to protest.
Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung, the religious affairs minister, appeared
on state television to warn spiritual leaders to preach restraint: “Actions
will be taken against the monks’ protest marches according to the law if
they cannot be stopped by religious teachings.”
The minister blamed the protests on “destructive elements who do not want to
see peace, stability and progress in the country.”
Civilians joining the marches swelled the number of demonstrators to as many
as 100,000, according to some estimates. Hard figures were impossible to
come by, with no Western journalists present. Some of the protesters were
said to have wept, and some carried banners which read: "This is a peaceful
Today's turnout greatly exceeds yesterday's march by 20,000 monks and nuns -
itself the biggest demonstration since the 1988 pro-democracy uprising,
which was brutally suppressed.
Several film and music stars have publicly offered their support to what has
been dubbed the Saffron Revolution. Tun Eindra Bo, described as Burma's
answer to Angelina Jolie, is among the celebrities to join a Sangha
(Buddhist clergy) support committee.
Two well-known actors, comedian Zargana and film star Kyaw Thu, went to
Rangoon's golden Shwedagon Pagoda early today to offer food and water to the
monks before they started their march.
Mark Canning, the British ambassador in Rangoon, said that Burma's leaders
were now in uncharted territory.
"Firstly, the demonstrations could subside - I mean, that's looking less and
less likely by the day," he told the BBC.
"Secondly, that we could see some sort of counter-reaction, which I've said
would be a disaster, although in terms of probability it, I'm afraid, ranks