Burmese riot police ready for pro-democracy demos

Last updated at 13:11 26 October 2007

Hundreds of riot police armed with assault rifles and tear gas moved into position at sites in Yangon today where protesters staged a bloody, prodemocracy demonstration against Burma's junta a month ago.

Security was tight at the Shwedagon pagoda where Buddhist monks protested on 26 September. The move came a day after detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Burma's new "minister of relations".

Meanwhile, Burma's military rulers are hunting for several "bogus" Buddhist monks who led recent mass anti-government protests, state media reported today.

The people who organised the protests are "ex-convicts" and they will be charged under existing laws, according to a report in the New Light of Myanmar, the mouthpiece of the junta.

The news came as pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi - under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years - met for about one hour with a Burmese government official this afternoon.

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burma monks protest

"Most of the monks from the National Front of Monks are ex-convicts and the bogus monks who led the protests in violation of cleric rules" will be charged, Religious Affairs Minister Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung told senior monks at a meeting yesterday, the newspaper reported.

The report did not elaborate on the specific violations or proposed charges.

The minister said authorities had detained several monks for questioning but were releasing those who had unwittingly taken part in the protests. He did not elaborate.

Buddhist monks enjoy great respect in Burma and the violent suppression of their protests has seriously hurt the junta's reputation.

In efforts to counter this, state newspapers have been filled with stories suggesting that the monks who organised the protest are a tiny minority in the monkhood, and report virtually daily on junta members visiting monasteries to make donations.

Relatively small protests against economic policies erupted August 19 after the government raised fuel prices, but the rallies mushroomed into a national movement against the government after Buddhist monks joined in.

The movement was crushed when troops fired on demonstrators in Burma, renamed Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, on September 26 and 27.

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monks marching in myanmar

The regime has said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks who participated in the rallies.

Thura Myint Aung also said no monks were killed during the suppression of the protests. Some dissident groups have suggested the contrary.

The New Light of Myanmar newspaper on October 7 said the authorities had arrested 533 monks "to differentiate between real monks and bogus ones," and that 398 monks were subsequently returned to their monasteries.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Country Team in Myanmar called on the government "to address the political, economic, humanitarian, and human rights issues that are the concern of its people," in a statement released today.

Today pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi - under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years - met for about one hour with a Burmese government official this afternoon, a diplomat said.

Suu Kyi was driven a few minutes from her home to a government guest house, where she held talks with newly appointed liaison minister, Aung Kyi. The information came from a diplomat who did not want to be identified for political reasons.

A retired major general, Aung Kyi was appointed to the post on October 8 to hold talks with Suu Kyi.

It is not clear if this is Suu Kyi's first meeting with Aung Kyi, who on Wednesday was elevated to labor minister from deputy labor minister.

With Aung Kyi's appointment, the junta said it hoped to achieve "smooth relations" with Suu Kyi. Early this month the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a mouthpiece of the junta, printed a brief official announcement on its front page saying that Kyi had been appointed "minister for relations" to coordinate contacts with Suu Kyi, the country's democracy icon.

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monks burma myanmar

Appointing a liaison officer was suggested by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari during his September 29-October 2 visit to Burma, state media said.

Gambari met with both top junta officials and Suu Kyi.

A protest movement began August 19 over the government raising fuel prices. It mushroomed over weeks into a broad-based anti-government movement pressing for democratic reforms.

Tens of thousands demonstrated - the largest protests in nearly two decades of brutal military rule.

Gambari's trip came after troops quelled mass protests with gunfire. The government said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks.

Aung Kyi's exact duties have not been detailed, but it appeared he would coordinate all of Suu Kyi's contacts with both the regime and the United Nations, which is seeking to end the political deadlock between democracy advocates and a military that has ruled since 1962.

Aung Kyi has a reputation among foreign diplomats, U.N. officials and aid groups as being relatively accessible and reasonable compared to top junta leaders, who are highly suspicious of outsiders. He has had the delicate task of dealing with the International Labor Organization, which accuses the junta of using forced labor.

Early this month the government announced that junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe was willing to meet with Suu Kyi - but only if she met certain conditions, like renouncing support for foreign countries' economic sanctions against the military regime.

Than Shwe has only met Suu Kyi once before, in 2002.

It remains unknown if Suu Kyi will accept the offer, which also demanded she drop her alleged efforts backing "confrontation" and "utter devastation." The ruling generals have accused her and her party of collaborating with foreign nations to sabotage their own plans for a phased return to democracy.

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