More than 100 monks in Pakokku Township in Burma’s Magwe Division marched in a peaceful demonstration through the town on Wednesday morning. The monks paraded through the streets chanting the â€œMetta Suttaâ€ (the Buddha’s words on loving kindness).
The peaceful march was the first public demonstration since the government’s deadly crackdown last month on pro-democracy protesters.
Up to 100,000 people, led by monks, took part in demonstrations in Rangoon last month that were crushed when troops fired on protesters on September 26-27 in a crackdown that left at least 10 people dead by the military 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 Rangoon, 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 on August 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 September 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. Sources said many residents bowed before the protesting monks. The authorities did not intervene.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy by telephone from his hiding place last week, U Obhasa, a leading monk and one of four being hunted by the junta, said monk-led demonstrations could resume in Burma in late October. It could not be confirmed, however, whether Wednesday’s march in Pakokku was organized by the underground network of monks who describe themselves as the â€œAlliance of All Burma Buddhist Monks.â€
The march followed a pro-junta rally in Pakokku. Sources reported that military authorities are now investigating from which monasteries the demonstrating monks came.