"Prominent democracy activists initially led the rallies but the generals arrested more than 200 people, according to human rights groups." (1)
The NLD (Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy) has gotten into the act. One can understand their position; they won elections in 1990 but were not allowed to govern. Yet their participation in the protests is creating great fear in the regime and the ominous statement that the protestors are trying to take down the government.
Today's protest was huge, for Burma. AFP reports that more than 100,000 people marched in Yangon. But:
The enormous show of strength drew a swift threat from the military government to "take action" against the monks, even as world leaders urged the junta to show restraint in dealing with the protests. [...]I support Europe and US governments speaking out. Yet those governments should allow the Asians to take the lead on pressuring Burma's regime, and take their cue from China's spin on the protests (see previous Pundita post).
In the first official reaction to a week of escalating protests led by the monks, state media reported that the religion minister, Brigadier General Thura Myint Maung, had issued a warning to senior clergy.
"If the monks go against the rules and regulations in the authority of the Buddhist teachings, we will take action under the existing law," state television quoted the minister as saying.
The threat came as the international community urged restraint by the junta on the eve of the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York, where world leaders are expected to push the generals to adopt democratic reforms.
"We are consulting with allies and friends in the regions on ways to encourage dialogue between the regime and those seeking freedom," said US national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Germany and France added their voices to the chorus, with the foreign ministry in Paris warning that the junta would be held accountable if there were any harsh crackdowns on the streets of major cities.
Closer to home, Malaysian lawmakers urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to use its influence to push Myanmar, itself a member of the regional bloc, to reform.
Analysts believe the junta has thus far held back because any violence against the monks in this devoutly Buddhist nation would spark a huge outcry.Hello, Burma's religion minister is a brigadier general. If the West turns this into a fight for democracy, the junta won't hesitate to slaughter monks and civilians alike. Yes, the ultimate goal is political reform, but Yangon needs face-saving ways to approach talks with the protestors.
1) Quotes from the AFP report I linked to.