The price hike has triggered rare public protests in Myanmar, beginning in the biggest city Yangon and spreading to other parts of the country.

 

According to the US-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA), the protest in Pakokku, about 500km north of Yangon, lasted about three hours before soldiers moved in to break it up.

 

Reports on RFA and from exiled Myanmar pro-democracy groups said between 300 and 600 monks joined the protest, some of them carrying placards protesting high prices and calling for political prisoners to be released.

 

"We can't sit back and watch the people who sponsor us sink into poverty. Their poverty is our poverty as well"

Unidentified monk speaking to DVB

Witnesses said shots were fired before soldiers moved in, beating and arresting several protesters.

 

The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a media group run by former Myanmar student leaders in exile in Norway, said on its website that Proat least 10 monks had been detained.

 

Myanmar was formerly known as Burma.

 

Scores of activists, many of them former student leaders from the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, have been detained for their involvement in the protests against the fuel price rises.

 

DVB quoted one unidentified monk as saying that the economic situation in Myanmar had become so dire they could not afford razors to shave their head.

 

Previous protests have been broken up by
police and pro-government supporters [AFP]
"We can't sit back and watch the people who sponsor us sink into poverty. Their poverty is our poverty as well," the monk told the station.

 

A witness to the protest told DVB the monks had been marching peacefully when the soldiers moved in.

 

"They were just walking in a line with four or five monks walking side by side at a time, which is the way they usually travel when they are collecting alms," the unnamed witness was quoted as saying.

 

"They were chanting 'metta' and wishing for everyone to be free from the oppression of others," the eyewitness said, referring to the Buddhist concept of loving kindness.

 

Monks were at the forefront of protests against British colonialism and military dictatorship but have been kept under tight control by the current government.

 

In Yangon, the country's biggest city and former capital, no public protests have been reported for more than a week although they were continuing sporadically in other towns outside Myanmar's largest city.

 

'World is watching'

 

"All these demonstrators want is for the government to be responsive to them"

Laura Bush,
wife of US president

The response by Myanmar's military government to the fuel protests has drawn widespread international criticism.

 

On Wednesday Laura Bush, the wife of the US president, added to the condemnation urging the government to stop the crackdown, saying the world was watching.

 

"I want them to know that the rest of the world does condemn these actions of the Burmese government, the harassment and jailing of political peaceful demonstrators," she said.

 

"All these demonstrators want is for the government to be responsive to them."

 

Her comments echoed criticism from the US president, who is in Sydney this week for a summit of Asia Pacific leaders.

 

"It's inexcusable that we have this kind of tyrannical behaviour in Asia," he said on Wednesday, adding that he plans to raise the issue at the weekend's summit meeting.