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Myanmar monks refuses alms by government

The Associated Press, September 11, 2007

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar's junta pleaded with its citizens to end weeks of anti-government protests and to instead express their views through a promised referendum on a new constitution, state-run media reported Tuesday.

Demonstrations started Aug. 19 over high prices for fuel and consumer goods, but have resulted in the most sustained public protests in a decade against the military government.

"Myanmar's democratic transition is in its infancy, so the nation should take great care to avert possible undesirable consequences," said a commentary in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

The protests intensified last week when Buddhist monks angry at being beaten up for protesting economic conditions temporarily took officials hostage, and smashed a shop and a house belonging to junta supporters in northern Myanmar.

Government efforts to stamp out the protest by arresting scores of demonstrators and roughing up others have failed to extinguish their defiance. In recent days, the regime has stepped up its propaganda campaign against the pro-democracy movement, accusing it of being funded by foreigners and having links to terrorism.

The New Light of Myanmar said protests "are no longer fashionable," so people should make their stances known when they have a chance to approve a new, yet-to-be-drafted constitution in a national referendum to be held "soon."

The government has promised to eventually hold elections.

"There is a Western saying that says 'look before you leap,'" said the English-language newspaper commentary. "So I would like to remind the people about the demonstrations lest the nation will be stepping towards the abyss."

Earlier this month, the government wrapped up a 14-year National Convention to draw up guidelines for a new constitution, the first stage of its seven-step "road map to democracy."

Critics have called the entire process a sham, saying the guidelines ensure the military a prominent role in politics and bar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from holding elected office.

Meanwhile, Buddhist monks said they may refuse alms from the military and ignore junta officials and their supporters at official functions if the government fails to apologize by next week for the attack, according to The Irrawaddy, an independent Thailand-based news magazine that reports on Myanmar, and the pro-democracy group U.S. Campaign For Burma.

The monks reportedly under the banner of a new political organization called the National Front of Monks are also demanding that authorities cut fuel prices, release all political prisoners and begin negotiations with Suu Kyi and other democratic leaders, the U.S. Campaign For Burma says.

It was impossible to independently verify the front's existence or demands.

Historically, monks in Myanmar, also known as Burma, have been at the forefront of protests first against British colonialism and later military dictatorship. They also played a prominent part in the failed 1988 pro-democracy rebellion that sought an end to military rule, imposed since 1962. The uprising was brutally crushed by the military.

The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Nobel laureate Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won. Suu Kyi has been detained under house for more than 11 of the past 18 years.

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