10,000 Myanmar monks march in Mandalay

YANGON, Myanmar &

About 10,000 Buddhist monks marched through Myanmar's central city of Mandalay on Saturday, witnesses said, in one of the largest demonstrations against the country's repressive military regime since a democratic uprising in 1988.

Monks from various monasteries started their march in Mandalay &

a hotbed for activist monks &

while about 1,000 Buddhist monks began marching from Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda, the country's most revered shrine and a historic center for protest movements. From there, witnesses said, they planned to march to downtown Yangon, which is the nation's largest city.

It was the fifth straight day the monks have marched in Yangon and the numbers showed the anti-government protest were growing in size. The monk's activities have given new life to a protest movement that began a month ago after the government raised fuel prices, sparking demonstrations against policies that are causing economic hardship.

Meanwhile, Buddhist monks in the country urged the public for the first time to join in protesting the "evil military despotism," stepping up their campaign against the junta after days of peaceful marches.

"In order to banish the common enemy evil regime from Burmese soil forever, united masses of people need to join hands with the united clergy forces," The All Burma Monks Alliance said the statement, received by The Associated Press Saturday.

"We pronounce the evil military despotism, which is impoverishing and pauperizing our people of all walks including the clergy, as the common enemy of all our citizens," the statement read, which was translated from Burmese by Burma Net, a news site that covers Myanmar.

A day earlier, some 1,500 barefoot Buddhist monks marched through the rain-flooded streets of Myanmar's biggest city, drawing even more public sympathy to ongoing anti-government protests that have put the ruling military on the defensive.

The protest movement began Aug. 19 after the government raised fuel prices, but has its basis in long pent-up dissatisfaction with the repressive military regime. Using arrests and intimidation, the government had managed to keep demonstrations limited in size and impact, but they gained new life when the monks joined.

The government has been handling the situation gingerly, aware that forcibly breaking up the monks' protest in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar would likely cause public outrage.

The protests at the Shwedagon pagoda resonate with many people, as it is best remembered as the site of a vast Aug. 26, 1988, rally where independence hero Gen. Aung San's daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, took up leadership of a pro-democracy movement.

The 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations were crushed by the military, and Suu Kyi has spent nearly 12 of the past 18 years in detention.

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