Five Buddhist monks are demonstrating at a monastery in Mandalay to demand the immediate release of political prisoners (AFP)
MANDALAY, Myanmar — A rare protest by Buddhist monks in Myanmar entered a second day Wednesday, as Southeast Asian nations announced a plan to let the military-dominated country chair their regional bloc.
The five monks are demonstrating at a monastery in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, to demand peace and the immediate release of political prisoners, and they have vowed to continue their action until Friday.
Rallies by monks are extremely unusual in Myanmar, and this is thought to be the first since mass protests led by clergy in 2007 — known as the “Saffron Revolution” — were brutally quashed, with the deaths of at least 31 people and the arrest of hundreds of clerics.
Ministers at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the Indonesian island of Bali were Wednesday set to endorse a plan to pass the rotating chairmanship to Myanmar in 2014.
Around 500 people, mostly monks, gathered at Masoeyein monastery to hear the protesters give a speech, an AFP reporter on the scene said.
“I support their demands,” said local resident Khin Maung Tun, 27, as he delivered food offerings at the compound, which is home to some 600 monks.
“So I came here to listen to their speech and show my support.”
The five demonstrators attracted around 500 onlookers when they began their protest on Tuesday, after an expected amnesty for political detainees failed to materialise.
They unfurled banners in English and Burmese reading: “Free all political prisoners” and “Stop civil war now” — a reference to the decades-long conflict between the army and ethnic minorities.
Their third demand is freedom of speech for monks, Ashin Sopaka, the leader of the five protesters, told AFP at the monastery.
“I think things are going well,” he said, but he admitted he feared a crackdown by the authorities. “We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”
The monks originally started their protest at a different religious building in Mandalay, but following talks with senior clerics in the area agreed to move their protest to the Masoeyein monastery.
The release of all of the country’s political prisoners, whose exact numbers remain unclear, is one of the major demands of Western nations which have imposed sanctions on Myanmar.
Authorities had been expected to release some political detainees on Monday before President Thein Sein attends the ASEAN meeting later this week.
But officials said the move was put off at short notice for reasons that remain unclear.
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