Oh, but how much oil do they have?
30,000 rally as Myanmar monks' protest gathers steam
YANGON (AFP) - Thousands of Buddhist monks marched in Yangon on Monday, piling the pressure on Myanmar's ruling military junta after a weekend that saw the biggest show of dissent in nearly two decades.
At least 30,000 people led by about 15,000 monks clad in orange and rust-red robes marched from the holy Shwedagon Pagoda and past the offices of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
As the monks walked by chanting prayers for peace, NLD officials came to the sidewalk, clasped their hands and bowed in respect to the clergy, and then joined the marchers.
Many of the marchers fixed onto their shirts small strips of rust-red cloth, taken from the robes of the Buddhist monks.
Shwedagon Pagoda has been the focal point of protests by the clergy that began nearly a week ago, which have swelled to include thousands of civilians.
"We are marching for the people," one monk said to the crowd, and urged supporters to remain peaceful and avoid chanting political slogans as they snaked through the nation's commercial hub.
On Sunday, about 20,000 people, half of them monks, thronged the rainswept Yangon streets chanting prayers and shouting slogans, while other rallies took place across the country.
Some 150 nuns joined the rallies for the first time.
They were the largest protests in Myanmar since a 1988 democracy uprising led by students, which was brutally put down by the military, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of protesters.
Two of Myanmar's most famous actors, comedian Zaganar and heart-throb movie star Kyaw Thu, came to Shwedagon early Monday to bring food and water to the monks, witnesses said.
Both men had spoken on short-wave radio urging the public to support the protests.
Myanmar's junta have so far kept their distance. Any violence against the revered monks in this devoutly Buddhist nation would spark an outcry, analysts say, and the generals are likely keen to defuse the crisis peacefully.
"If the military kills a monk or a layman, then the demonstrations will quickly spread," said Aung Naing Oo, a Myanmar expert based in Thailand.
David Mathieson, Myanmar consultant with New York-based Human Rights Watch, told AFP that civilians joining the monks in the numbers seen Sunday marked a significant escalation in the protest movement.
"I'm heartened by the fact that there hasn't been a violent crackdown by the authorities, (but) this is still an incredibly tense time to see how they react," he said.
In a surprise move on Saturday, armed police allowed about 2,000 monks and civilians to pray outside the home of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The women known here simply as "The Lady" stepped outside the lakeside home where she has been under house arrest for more than a decade and greeted the monks and supporters.
"Walking down University Avenue and going to see Aung San Suu Kyi is something that people have been secretly dreaming of. And they did it, and the army let them, and that is what is really remarkable," Mathieson said.
But on Sunday, riot police blocked the road leading to the Nobel Peace Prize winner's house, and a smaller group of monks were forced to turn back.
Extra forces were again deployed around the home on Monday, witnesses said.
Anti-government protests began after a surprise rise in the price of fuel on August 15.
Initially, prominent democracy activists led the rallies, but the generals cracked down, arresting up to 150 people, human rights groups say, and now it is the monks who are spearheading the marches.
Smaller rallies have also been taking place in cities in central Myanmar, in a bold show of dissent in a nation that has been tightly controlled by the military for 45 years.
The United States and European nations are also preparing to round on Myanmar at the annual United Nations General Assembly this week, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice branding the military leadership "brutal."
Buddhist monks protest Myanmar government
Updated Mon. Sep. 24 2007
The Associated Press
YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar's military government issued a threat Monday to the barefoot Buddhist monks who led 100,000 people marching through a major city in the strongest protests against the repressive regime for two decades.
The warning shows the increasing pressure the junta is under to either crack down on or compromise with a reinvigorated democracy movement. The monks have taken their traditional role as the conscience of society, backing the military into a corner from which it may lash out again.
The authorities did not stop the protests Monday, even as they built to a scale and fervor that rivaled the demonstrations bloodily suppressed by the army with mass shootings 19 years ago. The government has been handling the monks gingerly, wary of raising the ire of ordinary citizens in this devout, predominantly Buddhist nation.
However, on Monday night the country's religious affairs minister appeared on state television to accuse the monks of being manipulated by the regime's domestic and foreign enemies. Meeting with senior monks at Yangon's Kaba Aye Pagoda, Brig. Gen. Thura Myint Maung said the protesting monks represented just 2 percent of the country's population. He suggested that if senior monks did not restrain them, the government would act according to its own regulations, which he did not detail.
Also on Monday, the White House weighed in with the threat of additional sanctions against the Myanmar regime and those who provide it with financial aid. President Bush is expected to announce the sanctions Tuesday at the U.N. General Assembly. The United States restricts imports and exports and financial transactions with Myanmar, also known as Burma.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged authorities in Myanmar to exercise restraint in the face of the protests and expressed hope the military-led government would "seize this opportunity" to include all opposition groups in the political process.
The current protests began on Aug. 19 after the government sharply raised fuel prices in what is one of Asia's poorest countries. But they are based in deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the repressive military government that has ruled the country in one form or another since 1962.
"I don't like the government," a 20-year-old monk participating in the protest in the central city of Mandalay told The Associated Press. "The government is very cruel and our country is full of troubles."
Ordinary people have similar views, even if they may not act on them.
"I don't like the government because it only thinks about itself. But there is nothing I can do. If I join the protest, I will lose everything," said a hotel worker, also in Mandalay. Both she and the monk asked not to be named for fear of the authorities.
The protests over economic conditions were faltering when the monks last week took over leadership and assumed a role they played in previous battles against British colonialism and military dictators. At first the maroon-robed monks simply chanted and prayed. But as the public joined the march, the demonstrators demanded national reconciliation -- meaning dialogue between the government and opposition parties -- and freedom for political prisoners, as well as adequate food, shelter and clothing.
The fleeting appearance of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi at the gate of the Yangon residence where she is under house arrest squarely identified the protests with the longtime peaceful struggle of her party, the opposition National League Democracy. She has been under detention for 12 of the past 18 years.
In what appeared to be a miscalculation by the junta, a crowd of about 500 monks and sympathizers was let through police barricades Saturday to her home, where she briefly greeted them in her first public appearance in four years.
On Monday, after the crowds marched for more than five hours over 12 miles, a last hard-core group of more than 1,000 monks and 400 sympathizers finished by walking up to an intersection where police blocked access to the street where Suu Kyi lives.
Making no effort to push past, the marchers chanted a Buddhist prayer with the words "May there be peace," and then dispersed. About 500 onlookers cheered their act of defiance, as 100 riot police with helmets and shields stared stonily ahead.
Monday's march was launched from the Shwedagon pagoda, the country's most sacred shrine, and 20,000 monks took the lead. Students joined the protest in noticeable numbers for the first time. Security forces were not in evidence for most of the route.
Diplomats and analysts said Myanmar's military rulers were showing unexpected restraint this time because of pressure from the country's key trading partner and diplomatic ally, China.
"Beijing is to host the next summer's Olympic Games. Everyone knows that China is the major supporter of the junta, so if government takes any action it will affect the image of China," a Southeast Asian diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity as a matter of protocol.
China, which is counting on Myanmar's vast oil and gas reserves to help fuel its booming economy, earlier this year blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution criticizing Myanmar's rights record, saying it was not the right forum. Much of the West applies diplomatic and political sanctions against the junta, but Chinese aid -- along with the oil and gas revenues -- effectively undercuts any leverage they might have had.
However, Beijing has also employed quiet diplomacy and subtle public pressure on the regime, urging it to move toward inclusive democracy and speed up the process of dialogue and reform.
Josef Silverstein, a political scientist and author of several books on Myanmar, said it would not be in China's interest to have civil unrest in Myanmar.
"China is very eager to have a peaceful Burma in order to complete roads and railroads, to develop mines and finish assimilating the country under its economic control," Silverstein said.
And how many gazillions of dollars could be made in bloody war profits for Halliburton and the other cronies of Darth Cheney and Shrub Bush?
Myanmar, protests, Monks, Burma