Tear gas fired at Myanmar monks

Protest marches and calls for religious boycott pose challenge to military rulers.

Authorities prevented hundreds of monks from entering Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda [AFP]
Authorities prevented hundreds of monks from entering Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda [AFP]

Three or four monks were arrested as the crowd scattered, and were hit and slapped as well, a witness told the Reuters news agency.

There have been a string of protests by monks since Sunday and witnesses reported security being tightened at temples and monasteries in major cities in advance of Tuesday’s anniversary.

Peaceful protest

In Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar, hundreds of Buddhist monks joined a peaceful protest amid signs of increasing tensions with the military government.


About 400 monks chanted prayers but no political slogans as they marched through the city in one of the biggest demonstrations since the current wave of protests began.

Police and plainclothes military intelligence agents reportedly videotaped the protesters in Yangon but took no action against them.


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The monks prevented from entering Yangon’s Shwedagon pagoda, Myanmar‘s most important religious site, where they had intended to launch a campaign which would see them refuse to accept alms from anyone connected to the military government.


Tightly controlled by its military rulers, public protest against the government is rare in Myanmar.


However, the past month has seen demonstrations spread across the country after the government announced a massive increase in the price of fuel.


In the latest move, the monks are demanding an apology from the government after reports that hundreds were beaten during protests in the town of Pakokku two weeks ago.

After the protest in Pakokku, about 300 monks took a group of 20 government officials hostage in protest against the violence against peaceful demonstrations.


Religious chants

Over the last few days Buddhist groups have organised marches in cities and townships across the country, reciting traditional religious chants to ward off evil.

On Sunday the group urged all monks not to accept alms from soldiers and their families, a move that is likely to humiliate the ruling generals.


Giving alms

Giving donations to monks is an important spiritual duty for devout Buddhists.


Alms are given by lay people to monks to nurture merit; the gesture also connects the worshipper to the spirituality the monk represents.


Without such rites a devout Buddhist is seen as losing all chance of attaining nirvana or release from the cycle of rebirth.

Giving alms to monks is considered an important duty of devout Buddhists.

 On Sunday, it was reported that about 300 monks in the town of Magwe had boycotted alms offered by members of the pro-government Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a group said to be behind attacks on several protests.

Khin Ohmar, the co-ordinator for Thailand-based Asia Pacific People’s Partnership on Burma (APPPB), said monks call for an alms boycott when they see violence and injustice.


“This is only the fourth time an alms boycott has happened in Burma. The monks know there is no more food in people’s kitchens because the alms and donations have dried up,” she told Al Jazeera.


“In such situations, Buddhist teachings allow monks to refuse ‘tainted’ alms from those who use violence and commit injustices against the people.”


Democracy movements

In 1988, Myanmar‘s monks were credited with helping to rally popular support for a pro-democracy uprising led by student leaders that was crushed by the military, leaving hundreds dead.


Dozens of protesters have been arrested since 
a fuel price rise last month [www.dvb.no]

Khin Ohmar said monks had always been on the forefront of pro-democracy movements since the days before Myanmar won its independence from Britain.


“It is a tradition in Burma that monks lead protests when there is suffering and violence,” she said.


“To them, the people’s well-being is important, free from hunger and poverty.”


She said people also supported the monks because they are considered the highest moral authority in society.


In a statement, a group calling itself The Alliance of All Burma Buddhist Monks urged monks to stage peaceful marches on Tuesday in major cities including Yangon and Mandalay, the Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine reported.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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