Yangon (AsiaNews) – At least 30,000 people, half of whom Buddhist monks and nuns, marched today in the streets of Yangon in what is by all accounts the largest anti-junta march of the past 20 years. It marks a turning point as monastic communities openly challenge the government, especially since the authorities had called on monks to go back to their monasteries after protesting in the previous seven days.
This morning’s march began with a few thousands monks setting off from Shwedagong Pagoda. Quickly a huge crowd started forming. Demonstrators again walked by Aung San Suu Kyi’s home. On Saturday, they marched by her house and were greeted with a brief appearance by the pro-democracy icon who has been under house arrest since May 2003. Today however the police had cordoned off her house.
Yesterday for the first time hundreds of nuns also took part in the demonstration.
Today thousands of people crowded the sidewalks—clapping, cheering and sometimes crying as the marchers passed by. Many handed out bottles of water, flowers and even foot balm to the monks, who since Tuesday have led daily marches, their alms bowl held upside in a sign of refusal to take anything from the military.
On the seventh day of the protest tensions were still rising. Some civilians tried to join the monks’ march, carrying signs and slogans against the regime but were taken away by plain-clothed policemen.
Yesterday, for the first time, the monks called openly for the public to join them, demanding that the ruling junta sit down for negotiations to solve the economic and political crisis that is ravaging the country.
One monk at the head of the crowd carried a megaphone, crying: "We want national reconciliation, we want dialogue with the military; we want freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners."
A showdown between the monks and the junta seems inevitable, according to many analysts.
The military government, which has run the country since 1962, has already resorted to violence and killed in the past.
In 1988 the army killed 3,000 pro-democracy demonstrators.
But violence against monks might provoke an open revolt and unleashed a full-scale civil war.
Peaceful protests began last August 19 when the government decided to double fuel and transportation costs. Police responded with open repression.
Monks eventually joined the protest movement, taking the lead. More than a month into the crisis the situation has turned into a national emergency.