Monks intensify protests on the streets of Rangoon

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The Independent Online

Buddhist monks marched for a third consecutive day through the streets of Rangoon yesterday, reinforcing their challenge to the repressive military junta that has ruled the country for nearly half a century.

The protests have grown through this week into what increasingly looks like the most potent challenge to the junta in over a decade.

The russet-robed monks, many of whom trudged through heavy rain with their traditional alms bowls turned upside down to symbolise their anger, indicated they would maintain the pressure by marching on Buddhist sabbath days. The next falls on Wednesday.

As ranks of onlookers protected them from police intrusion, almost 1,000 monks made their way from the golden Shwedagon pagoda, the country's most revered shrine, to Sule pagoda in the city's downtown district, where they said prayers. One monk told a crowd of almost 5,000 there that life was getting worse because of the "unjust and selfish" government.

A first march by ordinary citizens on 19 August protesting against a dramatic rise in fuel prices ended in violent clashes with plain-clothes police and the rounding up of several hundred protesters. The monks have demanded that the government apologises.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council held downbeat talks about the most recent events. Britain and the United States led calls for the release of political prisoners and a resumption of efforts towards political reconciliation. But Ibrahim Gambari, the UN's special envoy to Burma, said the latest crackdown was a setback for his efforts to broker dialogue between the regime and opposition figures, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for more than 11 of the past 18 years.

The British ambassador, Sir John Sawers, said Council members were "appalled" by the crackdown. It has, however, been unable to take firmer action against the regime in Burma because of an unwillingness by Russia and China, and currently also South Africa, to intervene in its affairs.