Monks March Again In Myanmar

More than 100 Buddhist monks marched and chanted in northern Myanmar for nearly an hour Wednesday, in the first public demonstration since the government's deadly crackdown last month on pro-democracy protesters, several monks said.

The monks in Pakokku shouted no slogans, but one monk told the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based short-wave radio station and Web site run by dissident journalists, that it was a continuation of the protests last month.

The march clearly was in defiance of the government.

"We walked around the town and chanted. ... We are continuing our protest from last month as we have not yet achieved any of the demands we asked for," the monk told the radio station.

"Our demands are for lower commodity prices, national reconciliation and immediate release of (pro-democracy leader) Aung San Suu Kyi and all the political prisoners," said the monk, who was not identified by name.

He said they had little time to organize the march so it was small, but "there will be more organized and bigger protests soon."

Up to 100,000 people took part in demonstrations in Yangon last month that were crushed when troops fired on protesters Sept. 26-27 in a crackdown that left at least 10 people dead by the government's count, drawing international condemnation. Opposition groups say as many as 200 people may have been killed.

Pakokku, a center for Buddhist learning with more than 80 monasteries about 630 kilometers (390 miles) northwest of Yangon, was the site of the first march last month by monks as they joined - and then spearheaded - the biggest anti-government protests in nearly two decades.

The first protests started Aug. 19, when ordinary citizens took to the streets to vent anger after the government hiked fuel prices as much as 500 percent. The rallies gained momentum when the Buddhist monks in Pakokku joined the protests in early September.

Reports that troops had beaten protesting monks in Pakokku on Sept. 6 rallied monks around the country to join the burgeoning marches.

On Wednesday, the monks started out at Pakokku's Shwegu Pagoda, marching for nearly an hour and chanting Buddhist prayers without incident, and then returned to their respective monasteries, two monks said in telephone interviews.

The march followed a pro-junta rally in town. Opposition groups in exile say such rallies are stage-managed by the government.

Historically, monks in Myanmar have been at the forefront of protests, first against British colonialism and later military dictatorship, and played a prominent part in a failed 1988 pro-democracy rebellion that sought an end to military rule, imposed since 1962.

The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won. Suu Kyi has been detained under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

Also Wednesday, the NLD said the military government had freed seven of its members who had been held for more than a month following the junta's crackdown on the anti-government protests.

The releases Tuesday night came ahead of a visit by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to seek reconciliation between the junta and democratic forces.

The seven had been detained at infamous Insein Prison in Yangon, said Nyan Win, an NLD spokesman.

They included party spokesman Myint Thein and six others, Han Zaw, Lei Lei, Ko Bala, Cin Shin Htan, Htaung Ko Htan and Win Naing, the spokesman said.

"All these people had been arrested unnecessarily and we demand the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained arbitrarily," another NLD spokesman, Han Tha, told The Associated Press. He said at least 150 party members out of nearly 300 who had been arrested since September remain in detention.

Han Tha said many have been denied proper medical treatment and are living in harsh conditions.

The government earlier said it had detained about 3,000 people in connection with the protests but had released most of them. Many reports have emerged of brutal treatment in custody.