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Last Updated: Friday, 21 September 2007, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Burma monks issue defiant message
Buddhist monks protest in Rangoon, Burma - 19/9/07
Monks have been holding a series of anti-government protests
Leaders of protests by Buddhist monks in Burma say they intend to continue their peaceful demonstrations until the military government collapses.

The statement by the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks came as 1,500 monks took to the streets of Rangoon in their biggest protest yet.

This is the fifth straight day of marches by monks in protest at recent government attempts to silence critics.

Diplomats at the United Nations have expressed concern at the crisis.

In a strongly-worded statement, seen by the BBC, the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks described the military government as "the enemy of the people".

It said the monks would keep up their protests until they had "wiped the military dictatorship from the land of Burma".

The group has asked people across the country to pray in their doorways at 2000 hours on Sunday for 15 minutes.

This is the first time the monks have explicitly challenged the government in this way, the BBC's Jonathan Head in neighbouring Thailand says.

Although the statement falls short of calling for an all-out popular insurrection, it must be what the generals now fear, our correspondent adds.

Fresh momentum

For a fifth day, hundreds of monks took to the streets in the former capital Rangoon.

Braving heavy monsoon rains, they chanted prayers and sermons as they converged on the Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma's most revered temple and focal point of the recent protests.

Shwedagon pagoda

Their numbers swelled to more than 1,500 and they were clapped by onlookers as the march moved on through the city.

The protests started on Monday but gathered pace on Tuesday, after a deadline given by the monks for a government apology into earlier violence expired.

The monks have also been withholding religious duties from anyone connected with the military.

The decision to take to the streets has given fresh momentum to protests that began in mid-August over the government's sudden decision to double the price of fuel.

Initial protests were led by activists, dozens of whom have now been arrested.

The movement has turned into the largest public show of opposition to the Burmese authorities since the uprising of 1988.

If their past behaviour is any guide, it cannot be long before the military uses force to stop such opposition, our correspondent says.

'Appalled'

The situation in Burma was discussed at the United Nations on Thursday, with UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari calling for urgent efforts to address the growing unrest.

Developments in Burma had "raised serious concerns in the international community and once again underscore the urgency to step up our efforts to find solutions to the challenges facing the country", Mr Gambari told the Security Council in a closed briefing, the UN said.

US and British officials also spoke on the issue after the briefing.

US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the situation was a threat to regional stability and urged Burmese leaders to allow Mr Gambari into the country as soon as possible.

"We certainly are appalled by the steps the regime has taken to silence peaceful protest and to clamp down on dissent," British ambassador John Sawyers was quoted as saying.




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