100,000 protest Myanmar junta

Some 100,000 anti-government protesters led by a phalanx of Buddhist monks marched Monday through Yangon, the largest crowd to demonstrate in Myanmar's biggest city since a 1988 pro-democracy uprising that was brutally crushed by the military.

Myanmar civilians and Buddhist monks gather before the march at the front gate of Shwedagon pagoda, Yangon.

1 of 5 As the march headed toward the Defense Ministry's offices along a straight stretch of road, the back of the crowd could not be seen from the front. Monks and activists estimated the turnout was about 100,000, though an exact count was difficult.

The march, launched from the Shwedagon pagoda, the country's most sacred shrine, gathered participants as it winded its way through Yangon's streets. Some 20,000 monks took the lead, with onlookers joining in on what had been billed as a day of general protest.

The march covered at least 5 miles in its first few hours, passing by the old campus of Rangoon University, a hotbed of protest in past times. Students were seen joining Monday's march.

On Sunday, when a small crowd of about 400 people split off and headed for the house of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, security forces deployed in force to block them.

The march raised both expectations of possible political change and fear that the military might try to crush the demonstrations with violence, as it did in 1988 when thousands of pro-democracy protesters were killed nationwide.

On Saturday, more than 500 monks and sympathizers were allowed past barricades to walk to the house where Suu Kyi is detained. The Nobel Peace laureate greeted them from her gate in her first public appearance in more than four years -- a meeting that symbolically linked the current protests to her struggle for democracy.

But any optimism on the protesters' part was tempered when security forces thwarted the second march to Suu Kyi's house. The crowd peacefully abandoned their attempt after being turned back at two different approaches blocked by barbed wire barricades.

"In our country the monks are the highest moral authority. When the monks take the leading role, the people will follow," said Soe Aung, a spokesman for the National Council of the Union of Burma, a coalition of opposition groups based in neighboring Thailand.

Yet people have not forgotten the army's ferocity in crushing the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Terror keeps many from considering rebelling again.

"The protests will continue to grow as more people gain the courage to join, but they have not yet reached the point where I will allow my family to march," said a 50-year-old taxi driver who would not give his name. "There is still too much uncertainty to do that."

The latest protests began on August 19 as a movement against economic hardship, after the government sharply raised fuel prices, increasing the overall cost of living. Arrests and intimidation saw the movement begin to falter until last week, when monks -- who have long served as the country's conscience -- became the protests' vanguard.

Source: AP

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