The Burmese government made good on it’s threats to “take action” against the Buddhist monks leading peaceful protests throughout the country. The monks are protesting the government’s refusal “to apologise for its actions during an earlier rally in the city of Pakokku, when soldiers and state-backed militia reportedly beat up several monks.” That demonstration was held to protest a sudden rise in fuel prices.
The news coming out of Burma has been patchy since the ruling junta closed off the country to journalists but some reports are leaking out via the Internet and telephone calls to Burmese living abroad. These are in turn being picked up by major media outlets. The BBC is reporting that in Sittwe, Rangoon, and other areas, the military has been using tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, who number around 100,000. The BBC also published e-mails and other electronic messages from eyewitnesses inside Burma. Reports are also coming out about monks being killed.
First off, words can’t express my respect and admiration for these monks and the other Burmese demonstrators who are standing up to their brutal military government. The last time there was a similar peaceful, nationwide protest against the government, about 3,000 demonstrators paid with their lives. The memory of that massacre does not seem to be deterring today’s demonstrators, whose numbers have continued to swell as more people come out to support the monks.
They are really living up to the slogan of the 1988 demonstrators: Do-aye (“It is our task”). Monks are considered to be the highest moral authority in Burma so at first, the government seemed reluctant to use violence against them. After government warnings were ignored by demonstrators, however, the military moved to violently crush the demonstrations. Most of the international community, with the exception of China (which wields tremendous influence over the junta), has criticized the Burmese junta for its reaction to the demonstrations.
I’m heartened to see that monks, conscious of their respected position in Burmese society, have chosen to use their status to oppose the violence of the government. It’s truly uplifting to see so many Burmese citizens—monks, nuns, and laypeople—coming together peacefully to defy a brutal and repressive government.
I salute the Burmese people! They are setting a shining example for the world and justice-loving people everywhere should stand in solidarity with them.