Monks march against military

Taking to the streets: Pro-democracy Buddhist monks taking part in a demonstration against the junta in Mandalay on the 14th anniversary of the Saffron Revolution. — AFP

SCORES of pro-democracy Buddhist monks took to the streets of Myanmar’s second-biggest city, rallying against the military coup in demonstrations that coincided with the 14th anniversary of previous clergy-led mass protests.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since February when the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government.

An anti-junta resistance has taken root nationwide, prompting the military to unleash a brutal crackdown on dissent. More than 1,100 civilians have been killed and 8,400 arrested, according to a local monitoring group.

Historically, monks in mainly Buddhist Myanmar have been seen as a supreme moral authority, organising communities and at times mobilising opposition to the military regimes.But the coup has exposed a schism in the monkhood, with some prominent clerics giving the generals their blessing and others supporting the protesters.

Yesterday, dozens of monks in their bright orange and crimson robes marched through the streets of Mandalay with flags and banners and threw colourful streamers in the air.

“Monks who love the truth stand on the side of the people,” a protest leader said.

The monks chanted for the release of political prisoners, including members of Suu Kyi’s political party which won a landslide in last November’s election.

Some monks carried upside down alms bowls – ordinarily used to collect food donations from the community – in a symbol of protest to reject the junta regime, which calls itself the State Administration Council.

“We have to take risks... to protest as we can be arrested or shot at any point. We are not safe to live in our monasteries anymore,” a 35-year-old monk said.

In 2007, Buddhist monks led huge demonstrations nationwide against the previous military junta regime – an uprising that kicked off after a sudden hike in fuel prices.

The Saffron Revolution posed a legitimacy crisis for the then 35-year-old dictatorship, which responded with crackdowns that killed at least 31 people and saw hundreds of monks defrocked and arrested. — AFP

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