Burmese military threatens monks

Other News Materials 24 September 2007 21:39 (UTC +04:00)

( BBC ) - Burma's ruling military junta has warned it is ready to "take action" against Buddhist monks leading mounting protests, state media have reported.

Brig Gen Thura Myint Maung, minister for religion, warned them not to break Buddhist "rules and regulations" as Rangoon saw the largest march yet.

He blamed the protests on "destructive elements" opposed to peace in Burma.

Monks are highly revered in Burma and any move by the junta to crush their demonstrations would spark an outcry.

The military government has so far showed restraint against the protests but there are fears of a repeat of 1988, correspondents say, when the last democracy uprising was crushed by the military and some 3,000 people were killed.

Some monks' representatives had called for the entire country to join them in their campaign to overthrow the government, which began eight days ago.

Monday saw marches in at least 25 towns and cities, including Mandalay, Sittwe and Pakokku.

Turnout estimates in Rangoon, Burma's biggest city, range from 50,000 to 100,000.

'Communist plot'

According to state media, the minister for religion spoke after meeting senior members of the Buddhist clergy, whom he warned to control the militant young monks who appear to be leading the current street protests.

In the first public response by the junta to the mass protests, he said action would be taken against the monks' protest marches "according to the law if they cannot be stopped by religious teachings".

No further details were forthcoming, but there was no hint of reconciliation in the government's message, BBC Asia correspondent Andrew Harding reports.

State television said the demonstrations of the past week were being fermented by communists and exiled media and student groups.

Our correspondent says Monday's marches are a show of defiance unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

Five columns of monks, one reportedly stretching for more than 1km ( 0.6 miles), entered the city centre to cheers and applause from thousands of bystanders.

Civilians who joined in included officials from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The authorities are likely to be under huge pressure from their close neighbour China to avoid bloodshed and instability, our correspondent notes.

But if the demonstrations continue, he adds, the generals may see their authority ebb away and their options narrow.