Burmese monks continue protests

Buddhist monks are continuing to spearhead protests against the military regime in Burma (Myanmar). This is very bad news for the regime given the high esteem in which bhikkhus are held in that country. It’s disturbing to hear that the dictatorship’s security forces have been using tear gas and firing warning shots.

Burma is ripe for a transition to democracy — the people have long been dissatisfied with the corruption of the regime and the destruction of the economy. The trick, if democracy is restored, will be keeping the military in line.

In the NYT: Myanmar Junta Feels Pressure From Monks

  • The protests were originally led by student leaders and pro-democracy activists, and it was after they were rounded up by the junta that the monks stepped in.
  • The monk’s revolt seems to be a grassroots movement involving younger monks, and has not been organized by the religious establishment.
  • A statement by monks in Rangoon reads: “The clergy boycotts the violent, mean, cruel, ruthless, pitiless kings, the great thieves who live by stealing from the national treasury. The clergy hereby also refuses donations and preaching.”
  • The refusal to accept alms by members of the junta is a kind of “excommunication” and a serious statement of dissent.

Monks Demonstrate for 2nd Day in Myanmar – New York Times

Rangoon, Myanmar, Sept. 19 (AP) — Stepping up their challenge to the military government, Buddhist monks staged a second straight day of protests Wednesday, briefly occupying a landmark pagoda in Rangoon, the main city, during one of several marches around the country.

In the western city of Sittwe, some 5,000 monks were said to have turned out for an anti-government demonstration even though a protest the previous day had been cut short when the authorities fired tear gas and warning shots.

The saffron-robed monks have become the spearhead of a movement that began on Aug. 19, when a few hundred citizens marched to protest a government increase in fuel prices.

The protests reflect pent-up opposition to the military dictatorship, and they have become the most sustained challenge to the regime in at least a decade.

Tuesday was the 19th anniversary of the 1988 crackdown in which the military seized power after violently crushing vast pro-democracy demonstrations.

The regime held a general election in 1990, but refused to honor the results when the pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party won. Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for more than 11 of the past 18 years.

Some monks have started a religious boycott, holding their black begging bowls upside down as they march in a symbolic demonstration that they will refuse alms from the authorities and their supporters. Ostracizing the regime carries strong significance for the country’s mostly Buddhist population.

In the Myanmar language, the word for “boycott” comes from the words for holding the bowl upside down.

About 500 monks in Yangon went to the Sule pagoda downtown after being turned away from the golden hilltop Shwedagon pagoda, whose gates were locked to keep them out. Followed by hundreds of onlookers and scores of plainclothes security officers, they marched about three hours to Sule.

The monks pushed past closed gates to briefly occupy the pagoda, witnesses said, and took over for about 30 minutes before leaving peacefully.

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