A group of officials from Myanmar's military government have been released after they were held captive by several hundred Buddhist monks.
The officials had been seized after going to the monastery to apologise after soldiers fired over the heads of the monks during demonstrations in a northern province on Thursday.
Tensions have soared in Pakokku, a centre of Buddhist learning about 500km north of Yangon, since hundreds of monks took to the streets on Wednesday, to protest against fuel price rises.
A number of monks were reportedly injured when soldiers fired shots into the air to disperse the crowds.
About 20 officials were seized when they arrived at the Aletaik monastery, residents said. Four of their cars were also set on fire.
Shops in the town were closed as hundreds of people poured into the streets to applaud the monks after they captured the officials.
"I fully support the monks. They were just peacefully praying for the people. The monks are absolutely right," one resident said.
"I'm surprised that these security people would dare to harm Buddhist monks in this country."Standoff
Five of the officials were released after about five hours, and the others were freed 45 minutes later, witnesses told AFP news agency.
|"Young monks are very militant and will fight back. Once the monks are beaten, people could also join"|
The monks finally decided to end the standoff on Friday, opening their gates out of concern for the health of a senior abbot, who needed to receive food and medicine, one resident said.
The violent crackdown on Wednesday's march was the first reported case of guns being used to break up pro-democracy protests since the government imposed a steep hike in fuel prices three weeks ago.
The price increase has triggered rare public protests across Myanmar, beginning in the biggest city Yangon and spreading to other parts of the country.
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.
Monks were at the forefront of protests against British colonialism and the 1988 uprising but have been kept under tight control in recent years.
News reports from dissident organisations suggest the generals who first seized power in Myanmar in 1962 have been pressing the heads of Mandalay's monasteries not to become involved in the current protests.
"They seem to be more nervous. Once the monks in Mandalay start to rise, they won't be able to control it," a Yangon-based politician said earlier this week.
Pakokku is home to an estimated 10,000 young monks studying in more than 80 monasteries, according to Win Min, a Thailand-based analyst.
"If you beat up the monks, this is making a religious crime. It could send you to hell in Buddhism," he said. "Young monks are very militant and will fight back. Once the monks are beaten, people could also join."
Meanwhile, a pro-democracy activist who went into hiding during the crackdown on dissidents has urged the United Nations to intervene.
"We urgently need your practical support this time to prevent the real possibility of further violence," Htay Kywe said in a letter to Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general.
Htay Kywe was one of the leaders of a rally on 19 August that was attended by about 500 people.