An estimated 100,000 people joined 20,000 Buddhist monks in a twelve-mile protest march through Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) on Monday. The protesters are opposed to the ruling military junta in Myanmar who have been in power since the 1960s.
Within hours of the end of the peaceful protest, Myanmar's military government issued a dire warning to senior Buddhist clerics telling them that if they did not restrain their juniors, the government would take action. The government says those involved were instigated by the regime's domestic and foreign enemies.
Tuesday was the 19th anniversary of the current junta’s violent crackdown that crushed vast pro-democracy demonstrations. This latest round of protests began August 19 when several hundred citizens marched to protest the government’s increased fuel prices that resulted in a significantly higher cost of living.
Monks began peacefully protesting August 30 in Sittwe. A second march took place on September 5 in the northern town of Pakokku. It was ended when troops fired warning shots, and Junta supporters manhandled some marchers.
The movement seemed to falter with arrests and intimidation, but the monks, regarded as the moral authority, took to the streets last week and were joined by 20,000 people and 100 white-robed nuns. Plainclothes police followed the protesters. Some of the police carried shotguns, while other police manned street corners ahead of the march.
Several other marches took place in Yangon, all lead by monks. Myanmar exile media reported demonstrations took place in Mandalay, Monywa, Kalay, and the Kachin state capital of Myitkyina.
A religious boycott has been started by some of the monks wherein they hold their black begging bowls upside down, a symbolic gesture refusing alms from authorities and those who support them.
The word for “boycott” in the Myanmar language originates with the words for holding the bowl upside down. To ostracize the junta in this way is of great significance for the country's very devout Buddhist population.