Myanmar Protests Enter 4th Day

The Associated Press
Friday, September 21, 2007; 1:47 AM

YANGON, Myanmar -- About 200 Buddhist monks staged a brief demonstration in Myanmar on Friday, the fourth day of protests in the country, witnesses said. A day earlier, nearly 1,000 monks and thousands of citizens marched, the largest challenge in a decade to the iron-fisted junta that rules the nation.

Braving driving rain, the monks converged at Mei Lamu pagoda on the outskirts of Yangon. After chanting sermons and praying for 15 minutes, the monks dispersed, witnesses said.

It was the fourth straight day the monks have marched in Yangon. Their activities have given new life to a protest movement that began a month ago after the government raised fuel prices, sparking demonstrations against policies that are causing economic hardship.

Authorities normally quick to crack down hard on dissent left the marchers alone, apparently wary of stirring up further problems.

On Thursday, processions of monks converged from various monasteries around Yangon in the early afternoon at the golden hilltop Shwedagon pagoda, the country's most revered shrine. They prayed there before embarking on a more than three-hour march through Yangon in steady rain, gathering supporters as they went.

Monks at the head of the procession carried religious flags and an upside-down alms bowl, a symbol of protest.

Some monks are refusing alms from the military and their families _ a religious boycott deeply embarrassing to the junta. In the Myanmar language, the term for "boycott" comes from the words for holding an alms bowl upside down.

As the monks marched calmly through the streets, some onlookers offered refreshments while others kept the streets clean by picking up water bottles.

The government appeared to be handling the situation gingerly, aware that any action seen as mistreating the monks could ignite public outrage. They are aware that restraining monks poses a dilemma, because monks are highly respected in predominant Buddhist Myanmar, and abusing them in any manner could cause public outrage.

A member of one of the junta's neighborhood councils said it had been given instructions by authorities not to interfere with the protesting monks.

"We've been instructed to be patient and to even protect the monks," said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to release information.

No uniformed security personnel were in sight, although dozens in plainclothes stood by without interfering. Car and motorbikes carrying junta supporters _ present at most previous protests _ were also absent.

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