September 24, 2007
Over 100,000 take to streets in largest protest in decades
More than 100,000 people flooded the streets of Myanmar's biggest city Monday, joining Buddhist monks in the strongest show of dissent against the ruling generals in nearly two decades.
Two major marches snaked their way through the nation's commercial capital led by robed monks chanting prayers of peace and compassion, witnesses said.
Some of the people marched through the rain under a banner reading: "This is a peaceful mass movement." Others had tears in their eyes.
The protests lasted nearly five hours, ending with prayers at pagodas before the crowds returned to their homes.
About 800 of them stopped to pray near a roadblock guarded by 100 riot police blocking the street to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's home, but they did not try to press their way to the compound where she is under house arrest.
Political dissidents based in Thailand said major protests also took place in Myanmar's second city of Mandalay, the western oil town of Sittwe, and the religious centre of Pakokku, but the reports were difficult to confirm.
The international community urged restraint by the junta, on the eve of the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York where world leaders are expected to push the generals to adopt democratic reforms.
"We are consulting with allies and friends in the regions on ways to encourage dialogue between the regime and those seeking freedom," said US national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Germany and France added their voices to the chorus, with the foreign ministry in Paris warning that the junta would be held accountable if there were any harsh crackdowns on the streets of major cities.
Closer to home, Malaysian lawmakers urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to use its influence to push Myanmar, itself a member of the regional bloc, to reform.
The generals have normally been tough on dissent, and their 1988 crackdown left hundreds if not thousands dead.
But Monday's rally was the latest in more than a month of growing demonstrations against the junta since a massive fuel price hike triggered public anger.
The monks and supporters set off from holy Shwedagon Pagoda and walked past the offices of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which won elections in 1990 but was never allowed to govern.
NLD officials came out to join the marchers, many of whom fixed small strips of the coloured cloth of the monks' robes onto their own shirts, in a procession that quickly swelled to more than 30,000 people.
"We are marching for the people," one monk told the crowd, urging them not to chant political slogans and only to recite prayers of peace.
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