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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Monks lead largest Burma protest
Buddhist monks march through Ahlone, a Rangoon suburb, on 24 September

Tens of thousands of monks and civilians around Burma have held the biggest protest marches against the military government yet.

Eyewitnesses say up to 100,000 people marched peacefully through Rangoon with monks demanding better living conditions and national reconciliation.

The military government has so far showed restraint over the protests.

Monks are highly revered in Burma and any move by the junta to crush their demonstrations would spark an outcry.

The military suppressed the last democracy uprising in 1988, killing some 3,000 people, correspondents say.

The monks had called for the entire country to join them in their campaign to overthrow the government, which began eight days ago, and Monday saw marches in at least 25 towns and cities, including Mandalay, Sittwe and Pakokku.

Witnesses say the demonstration in Rangoon, the largest city, was so huge they could not see the beginning or the end of it.

Junta holds back

Five columns of monks, one reportedly stretching for more than 1km (0.6 miles), entered the city centre to cheers and applause from thousands of bystanders.

BBC map
15 Aug: Junta doubles fuel prices, sparking protests
5 Sept: Troops injure several monks at a protest in Pakokku
17 Sept: The junta's failure to apologise for the injuries draws fresh protests by monks
18-21 Sept: Daily marches by monks in Burmese cities gradually gather in size
22 Sept: 1,000 monks march to the home of Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon
23 Sept: Up to 20,000 march in Rangoon
24 Sept: New Rangoon march draws at least 50,000 and 24 other towns join in

Civilians who joined in pinned small pieces of monks' robes on to their clothing, some of them weeping, and turnout estimates range from 50,000 to 100,000.

They included officials from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Two well-known actors, comedian Zargana and film star Kyaw Thu, encouraged the Rangoon marchers early in the day by going to the golden Shwedagon Pagoda to offer them food and water.

The BBC's South-East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, says it is not clear why the generals are so far exercising such restraint.

One suggestion is that China, Burma's most important trading partner, is urging the generals to be cautious.

However, the longer the protests go on, the greater the risk that the government loses all its authority, our correspondent adds.

The White House has urged Burma's rulers to show restraint and seek dialogue with "those seeking freedom".

UK Ambassador Mark Canning said Burma's leaders were now in uncharted territory and he expressed concern about a possible government counter-reaction.

"That... would be a disaster, although in terms of probability it, I'm afraid, ranks quite high," he told the BBC.

Detained leader

On Saturday, monks marched to greet Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, but access to her home was barred on Sunday, and again on Monday.

Monks have been urging Burmese people to hold 15-minute evening prayer vigils.

The organisation that has emerged to lead the protests, the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks, has vowed to continue marches until it has "wiped the military dictatorship from the land".

The protests were triggered by the government's decision to double the price of fuel last month, hitting people hard in the impoverished nation.

Map of Rangoon

Are you in Burma? Have you witnessed the protests? What is the mood like in the country?

Your comments:

I joined the monks this morning in Rangoon. I am sure same things are happening in my hometown, Mandalay. It was very exciting and it felt pretty good walking with them. There were many civilians too and even some foreigners. Where are we going now? I am still worried that the government will do some nasty tricks sooner or later. We have to be patient, united and brave now or else we will lose one more time and it can cost lots of lives. I am in this revolution now and I hope many young and old will join this nation-wide movement. One more thing is that we need international attention and pressure but we can not depend on them. We have to be ourselves and we have to try our best for ourselves. Soe, Mandalay, Burma

I saw the scene from above a shopping centre in Rangoon. The amount of people was not less than 10,000. The length of the march was nearly half a mile! They were walking in peace hoping that the people in Myanmar will get their wishes fulfilled. There were two human barriers to protect the monks and nuns on each side of the road. People were walking together with the monks locking their hands like a chain. It is the strongest chain on this earth made up of human hearts. I was really pleased to see that people are there to protect the monks and nuns. Phyu, Rangoon

I have my whole family in burma and I am calling them every day. They told me that everyone who could afford it is buying rice, oil and condiments to store at home. My cousins and sisters are not attending school. Everybody is living in fear. Dee, Boston, US

I witnessed the big protests in Rangoon today. I am really sorry for our country and our people because we are under the control of the wicked junta. We haven't got arms, we wish for peace, a better future and democracy. We are hoping that the UN security council will put a pressure on the junta. Kyi Kyi, Rangoon

I saw about 40,000 to 50,000 people, including monks, nuns and ordinary people, marching along Prome road. That was at around 3:30pm. The protests will grow bigger day by day and I hope that they are not going to start killing people. We need help to save our people. Mr Tun, Rangoon

It is astounding to see such a great mass of people on both sides of the roads, some clapping and some crying, but all demonstrating their support for the monks and those chanting prayers. It's for sure that all these people showing their support are willing to be part of the mass protest. They do not trust the government though and think that they could be crushed, just like it happened in 1988. But if we are just bystanders, today's rare and momentous events might not lead to the fall of the regime. Kyaw, Rangoon

I am not sure where these protests are going to lead to, but I am sure that it's not at all a good sign. Many people are expecting that there will be a great change coming soon. I am not sure if the monks will be joined by students, workers, or even soldiers. We are very insecure because we don't know what the government is planning to do. There are some news in the government - controlled newspapers that the monks are trying to agitate the public. This can be a big excuse for them to start attacking the monks. I really want some changes in Burma but I am not sure where the change is going to lead us to. I hope there won't be any blood-bath this time like there was in 1988. Soe Soe, Mandalay

We need a little reason to combine all opposition resources into one mass movement. This reason must be a political issue. The current situation can lead to a civil war because hardline junta still holds the power and the opposition might use this opportunity to form an armed struggle. After 1988, many activists, including students, ran to the border and took up the arms against the government. This time we want things to change peacefully, not through a civil war. But if there's no way to avoid the arms struggle, the people will choose it and the conditions in our poor country may become worse. The international pressure, including from China and Russia, is very important for the future of Burma at this moment. Mg Khar, Rangoon

One of the monks who took part in the protests came to us and told us about his experiences. He said: "We are not afraid, we haven't committed a crime, we just say prayers and take part in the protests. We haven't accepted money from onlookers although they offered us a lot. We just accept water. People clapped, smiled and cheered us." The monk seemed very happy, excited and proud. But I'm worried for them. They care for us and we pray for them not to get harmed. Mya, Rangoon

Monks lead protests in Burma's former capital

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