Thousands Join Peaceful Nationwide Monks Protest

Kyaw Phyo Tha The Irrawaddy

Several thousand Buddhist monks staged a nationwide protest on Wednesday in response to the government’s silence regarding their demands for an apology for the brutal police raid on copper mine protesters in central Burma late last month that injured around 100 monks.

Hundreds of clerics in Burma’s major towns and cities including Rangoon, Mandalay, Pakokku and Monywa took to the streets to complain that none of the five demands they made to the government last Saturday have been met.

The request included an apology from President Thein Sein, the immediate and unconditional release of those detained and an independent probe on the brutal crackdown at the Letpadaung mountain range in Sagaing Division.

In Rangoon, more than 300 monks joined a demonstration organized by “the Buddha Disciples” Buddhist group that is demanding justice for victims of the Nov. 29 raid. The number of protesters swelled to nearly 1,000 when lay people began walking alongside the monks, holding hands to form a human shield around those marching.

“We still haven’t got any reply [from the government],” said Aggha, 27, one of the leading monk of the group. “They have released those detained but only conditionally on bail. We want unconditional releases.”

In contrast to Saturday’s protest, several police trucks full with riot officers were deployed during Wednesday’s demonstration in the former capital. A security official warned marchers that their assembly was illegal, but the monks placated him by insisting that the rally would be peaceful. Apart from this initial warning, protesters did not face any other threats from the authorities.

Witnesses in Burma’s second largest city of Mandalay said that nearly 3,500 protesters, including many monks, staged a rally to show solidarity with other clergymen across the country. In upcountry towns such as Monywa and Pakokku, more than 1,500 demonstrators joined an afternoon gathering to demand the government fulfills the same requests as demanded by their Rangoon comrades.