Buddhist Monks Stage Anti-Government Protest in Myanmar

More than 500 Buddhist monks staged a peaceful protest Monday in a central Myanmar town, a resident contacted by phone said, the latest in a string of recent demonstrations against the country's repressive regime.

Unlike a similar protest almost two weeks ago, the march in Kyaukpadaung town, about 285 miles northwest of Yangon, was not impeded or harassed by the country's military authorities.

The protests began Aug. 19 after the government sharply raised fuel prices, putting the squeeze on already impoverished citizens. The protests have continued despite the detention of more than 100 demonstrators and the rough treatment of others.

Media operated by exiled Myanmar opposition figures have reported recently that monks around the country, unhappy about being manhandled during another, earlier march in the country's north, have threatened further action against the government.

Yangon, the country's biggest city, was quiet Monday although security was tightened near pagodas and monasteries. At the famous Shwedagon pagoda, more than 30 men and women wearing the temple's security uniform were seen being given riot control training Monday afternoon.

Monks have been at the forefront of political protests in Myanmar since British colonial times. Because they are so revered by the public, repressing them is politically risky. The junta is wary that demonstrations could gain momentum if monks keep protesting.

The first confirmed demonstration by monks took place in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in western Myanmar, on Aug. 28. But it did not get as much attention as a second one on Sep. 6 in the northern town of Pakokku that was cut short when troops fired warning shots and junta supporters manhandled some of the marchers.

In response, young monks angry at their mistreatment briefly took officials hostage, torched their vehicles and later smashed a shop and a house belonging to junta supporters.

The monks in Kyaukpadaung, who were on their early morning begging rounds, chanted prayers as they peacefully walked to the Maha Hsutaung Pyi temple, dispersing after saying prayers there, said the resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. The military government does not like news of protests to be publicized.

He said the monks explained that they prayed for the peace and well-being of the people and for the early release of people detained over the last few weeks for taking part in protests against the government's economic policies. His account could not be independently confirmed.

It was the first time during the current protests that monks had demonstrated in Kyaukpadaung.

However, on Aug. 30, some 20 people in Kyaukpadaung marched against the government's fuel price hikes. The protesters were jeered at by a pro-junta mob, and its leaders were ushered into a meeting with the township chairman, who advised them of a ban on gatherings of more than five people before letting them go.