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.
Buddhist monks join the crowd listening to the monks' calls for the government to release political prisoners. Photo/Mandalay Breeze Facebook
Five Buddhist monks launched a protest at Maha Mya Muni Monastery in Mandalay on Tuesday, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of political activists who are being detained in prisons across the country, one of the protesters told The Irrawaddy.
The move came after Win Mra, the chairman of a government-appointed rights body, the National Human Rights Commission, called on President Thein Sein to grant another amnesty as a reflection of his magnanimity or to transfer political prisoners in remote prisons to facilities with easy access for their family members.
The Buddhist monks also urged the government to end armed hostilities in ethnic Kachin State in northern Burma and to hold peace talks with ethnic armed groups.
They held signs which read: “Peace Here Right Now!” “Free All Political Prisoners!” “We Want Freedom!” and “Stop the Civil War Now!” as they protested using loudspeakers. The monks began the vigil at 5 am and it was still continuing at 2pm.
The Buddhist monks have also demanded that the government allow monks to exercise their right of religion such as by being able to give religious speeches in public. The police did not intervene but instead questioned the monks, then stood by and monitored the demonstration, said the source.
One of the monks was identified as Ashin Sopoka who lived in exile in Germany until recently, and who runs Burmese book stores in Chiang Mai and Mae Sot in Thailand.
Another Buddhist monk, U Sawpaka, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is do hold a telephone conversation with the protesting monks in Mandalay. Electricity lines have been cut at the Maha Mya Muni Monastery where the protest is taking place.
Members of the public watch the protesting monks at Maha Mya Muni Monastery in Mandalay on Tuesday morning. Photo/Mandalay Breeze Facebook
Hundreds of residents have turned up to cheer the monks and have offered them food, drinking water and petrol to work a generator. Plain-clothed security was beefed up around the protest site, and both police and fire trucks were deployed nearby, said the monk.
* Later on Tuesday afternoon, the five monks moved from Maha Mya Muni monastery to Ma Soe Yein monastery in Mandalay and continued their protest. They said they will maintain their protest until the government accepts their demands.
They said they moved location after being persuaded to by senior monks at Ma Soe Yein monastery.
“Even though the government released some political prisoners, there remain many Buddhist monks and political activists in prison. We call for the government to immediately release them and end the civil war for the sake of peace in Burma,” one of the protesting monks told The Irrawaddy by telephone.
Posted on: November 15, 2011 8:26 am
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