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Last weekend, thousands of demonstrators marched in Mandalay and Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma), in protest of a repressive military junta.
On Saturday, over 10,000 people including 4,000 Buddhist Monks participated. The city of Yangon, is the home of Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since May 2003. About 500 of the protesters paused for prayers outside her home Saturday.
On Sunday, the number of demonstrators increased to over 100,000 and they were blocked with barbed wire a short distance from Suu Kyi’s home, preventing their prayer service. Suu Kyi has spent approximately 12 of the past 18 years in detention after taking up leadership in the pro-democracy movement.
Monday’s events included 100,000 peaceful demonstrators, the threat of a lawsuit against the clergy by the junta, and the official backing of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader. “I extend my support and solidarity with the recent peaceful movement for democracy in Burma,” he said.
The situation in Southeast Asia has been smoldering for years, but the impetus, which sparked this current demonstration was the government’s unannounced rise in fuel prices. The goal of the united clergy is to peacefully overthrow the current repressive military junta and form a democratic government. More than 85% of Myanmar’s 47 million citizens are Buddhists. The Monks, armed only with overturned bowls, have captured global support.
A Myanmar discussion was held at the United Nations General Assembly on Monday and President Bush imposed sanctions against Myanmar. At the same time, France warned the Myanmar military junta to leave the demonstrators alone and that it will be held responsible if violence erupts.
Violence did erupt on Wednesday, when 100 monks were beaten, 300 arrested, and one man killed by the junta. Bloody sandals were seen on the road and Ngwe Kyar Yan Monastery reported bloodstains on its concrete floor.
Barbed wire was strategically placed at intersections near monasteries on Thursday, as soldiers fired automatic weapons into crowds of peaceful demonstrators. The death toll rose to 10, which included a Japanese cameraman and 11 demonstrators and 31 soldiers were wounded in the clash. Monks were beaten and hauled off in trucks.
All Internet access was cut off on Friday and the junta established no-zones near five important monasteries, again using barbed wire. Protesters launched smaller demonstrations in Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines. Although the junta has tried to shut down blogs and other Internet sites to the outside world, Irrawaddy is still available and operates in Thailand: www.irrawaddymedia.com. It is reporting day-to-day events in Myanmar.
Nobutaka Machimura, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary said that Tokyo will lodge a protest against the military junta, because of the cameraman, who was killed, and to protect a large number of Japanese citizens currently living in Myanmar. The junta received strong criticism from Chinese President Hu Jintao, and President George W Bush, who is attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney, Australia.