Myanmar Monks Defy Government Orders

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Defying a direct order from Myanmar's military dictator to stay out of politics, more than 4,000 Buddhist monks returned to lead mass protests Tuesday in the country's two largest cities.

Watch for more on the situation for Christians in Burma from International Reporter Gary Lane, following this report.

The monks began an eighth day of peaceful protest, walking out of Yangon's soaring Shwedagon Pagoda. More than 700 others led a similar parade of defiance in the city of Mandalay.

Thousands March in Myanmar for Democracy 
The head of the country's official Buddhist organization, or Sangha, issued a directive Monday ordering monks to stick to just learning and propagating the faith, saying young monks were being "compelled by a group of destructive elements within and without to break the law," the newspaper said.

"The protest is not merely for the well being of people but also for monks struggling for democracy and for people to have an opportunity to determine their own future," one monk told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals from officials. "People do not tolerate the military government any longer."

The demonstrators in Yangon ended their march around 5 p.m. A monk who appeared to be one of the leaders addressed the crowd and said the protests would continue until the government apologized for mistreatment of monks at an earlier demonstration in northern Myanmar.

More Than 100,000 Pro-Democracy Demonstrators

On Monday, the demonstrations in Yangon swelled to a crowd of more than 100,000. They were the largest demonstrations since a pro-democracy uprising 19 years ago.

Government authorities did not try to stop the protests Monday. However, the protests were on the same scale and fervor that rivaled a 1988 uprising when the military fired on peaceful crowds and killed thousands. The massacre left the country terrorized.

Warnings Against Illegal Gatherings

The government has tried to handle the monks and the situation gingerly. Officials are wary of drawing the anger of citizens in the predominantly Buddhist nation.

However, diplomats said government troops have been discreetly deployed in downtown Yangon. The officials boasted they could easily be called in against the protesters.

Joining the monks on Tuesday were members of the pro-democracy National League for Democracy headed by Aung San Suu Kyi as well as university students. The marcher walked a distance of more than a mile under a scorching sun.

Some pro-democracy party members carried flags of the fighting peacock, a symbol of the democracy movement. Some students carried a banner which read "Nonviolence, peaceful expression" in Burmese.

Government officials cruised Yangon's streets in cars Tuesday, announcing that the clergy have been directed not to take part in "secular affairs."

Warnings also were sent out against all illegal gatherings. An assembly of more than five people can amount to breaking the law in Myanmar or Burma.

The government's newspaper quoted the Religious Affairs Minister as saying that protests by monks also had spread to cities like Mandalay, Hinthada and Monywa in seven of the country's 14 states and divisions.

"The authorities concerned are handling the current situation with care and the least mistakes," the minister said.

Protests Escalating

Over the course of one week, the protests have escalated from a marginalized movement to mass demonstrations drawing people from all walks of life.

In Mandalay, ordinary people were starting to join the monks or follow them on foot, motorcycles, bicycles, and trishaws. Many people still appeared too afraid to show their open support.

"I support the monks. However, if I join them, the government will arrest me," said a man selling belts at a Mandalay market. He declined to give his name, fearing reprisals from officials.

After Monday's Yangon protest, the U.S. was poised to issue more sanctions against Myanmar's military rulers.

President Bush was to announce the sanctions against key members of the junta and those who provide them financial aid in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly, the White House said.

Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, said it was significant that monks had joined the protests.

"Our hope is to marry that internal pressure with the external pressure coming from the United States and the United Nations and really all countries that are committed to freedom to try to force the regime into a change," Hadley said.

The U.S. already restricts imports and exports and financial transactions with Myanmar. Washington also has imposed an arms embargo on Myanmar.

Source: Associated Press, ABC News

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