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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 October 2007, 13:53 GMT
Burma's monks unbowed in opposition
By Chris Xia
BBC News

Monks beg for alms north of Rangoon. 12 October
Burma has hundreds of thousands of monks, who are highly revered
The latest rally by Buddhist monks in central Burma was an open act of defiance against the security forces, which brutally suppressed last month's anti-government demonstrations.

Monks played a crucial role in the nationwide pro-democracy protests, and since then the military authorities have moved to break up this source of opposition.

The procession in Pakokku was ostensibly a religious affair. The monks gathered at a shrine, and walked chanting through the town. But it is hard not to see this as a challenge.

Pakokku was the site of a violent incident in early September which triggered the nationwide demonstrations, when the security forces badly beat monks who joined protests about the growing cost of living.

The procession also took place on the same day a pro-government rally was staged by the authorities, although it is not clear whether the monks' rally was a direct response.

Loss of welfare

Monks protest in Rangoon, 25 September
The crackdown on the protests sparked international action

Since the military crushed last month's protests, monks have not been seen on the streets in any numbers.

Many monasteries have been closed or put under armed guard, monks have been sent home, and it is thought hundreds of monks and nuns remain in detention.

The Burmese generals appear to have adopted a policy of dispersing this potent source of opposition - the only institution which had the strength to stand up to the military.

In particular, they have moved to shut a number of Buddhist centres of learning. Some monasteries linked to the protests are virtually empty, with only a few monks and the abbot remaining inside.

Monks who have escaped across the border to Thailand have described being locked up and prevented from going out into the streets to beg for alms, as is their custom.

One said he and fellow monks were forced to survive only on the food given as alms by the military, an added humiliation given that monks had declared they would refuse to accept gifts from soldiers.

Burmese Buddhist leaders abroad have spoken of their fear that the very survival of Burmese Buddhism is now under threat.

A number of senior monks said they were setting up a new Supreme Body for Burmese monks or Sangha.

Burmese abroad have also said they are worried about the loss of the social welfare that the monasteries provided - wondering who will now help the most vulnerable members of Burmese society.

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