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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Burmese monks' protests escalate
Buddhist monks march in Rangoon 18/09/2007
Thousands of monks are protesting against the Burmese junta
Thousands of Buddhist monks have protested in several Burmese cities in escalating protests against the military government.

In the western port city of Sittwe, nearly 2,000 monks demanded the release of four monks arrested on Tuesday.

About 1,000 monks marched through Mandalay, and several hundred more in Rangoon, the former capital.

They want a government apology for the violent break-up of a recent rally, triggered by protests over price rises.

Correspondents say the monks' protests will be worrying for the government since monks were key players in mass protests staged in 1988. These were violently put down by the junta and remain the last time the country's rulers were seriously challenged.

The protest in Sittwe was one of the largest since monks first joined the inflation-related protests at the end of last month.

The protesting monks have urged thousands of bystanders not to join in, but authorities must be fearful that escalating protests may become difficult to contain, correspondents say.

The monks are calling for the release of four of their fellow monks arrested during Tuesday's protests.

These were violently dispersed by the security forces, who fired warning shots and tear gas.

Some of the monks were beaten and several arrested, eyewitnesses say.

Tricky tactics

A new group that draws on militant youth elements among the monks - the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks - appears to be co-ordinating the monks' protests.


It has asked its followers across the country to refuse alms and offerings from anyone connected to the military.

The monks' actions are deeply embarrassing to Burma's military rulers, but present them with a difficult dilemma, according to the BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head.

Monks are highly respected figures in Burmese society, and treating protesting monks in the same way they might treat dissidents and ordinary citizens risks provoking huge public anger, he adds.

The monks had given the government a deadline of Monday night to apologise for its actions during an earlier rally in the city of Pakokku, when soldiers and state-backed militia reportedly beat up several monks.

But the deadline passed with no apology, and so a series of protests went ahead on Tuesday in Rangoon and other locations.

Fuel price hike

The monks' demonstrations are the latest in a series of recent protests in Burma, originally sparked by the military junta's decision to double the price of petrol and diesel on 15 August.

The move was not announced ahead of time and the reasons behind it remain unclear, but it has hit people hard.

Demonstrations have continued despite the arrest of many of Burma's most prominent activists.

The protests are likely to put added heat on the government, which is already under intense international pressure to implement democratic change.

A spokesman for the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks told the BBC that the monks had learnt from their experiences in 1988 and 1990 when their protests were easily put down by the military.

This time, he said, their leaders would remain underground.

Buddhist monks marched through Rangoon in silence

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