RANGOON, Burma - Stepping up their challenge to the military government, Buddhist monks staged a second straight day of protests yesterday, briefly occupying a landmark pagoda in Burma's largest city during one of several marches around the country.
In the western city of Sittwe, about 5,000 monks reportedly turned out for an antigovernment demonstration, despite having a protest a day earlier cut short by authorities shooting tear gas and warning shots.
The saffron-robed monks have become the spearhead of a movement launched on Aug. 19, when a few hundred ordinary citizens marched to protest a government increase in fuel prices.
The protests reflect long pent-up opposition to the repressive military regime, and have become the most sustained challenge to the junta in at least a decade.
Tuesday marked the 19th anniversary of the 1988 crackdown in which the current junta took over after violently crushing vast prodemocracy demonstrations.
Some monks have started a religious boycott of the junta, holding their black begging bowls upside down as they march in a symbolic demonstration that they will refuse alms from authorities and their supporters. Ostracizing the junta carries strong significance for the country's mostly Buddhist population, which tends to be very devout.
About 500 monks in Rangoon went to Sule pagoda in downtown after being turned away from their first gathering point, the golden hilltop Shwedagon pagoda, whose gates were locked to keep them out.
Followed by hundreds of onlookers and scores of plainclothes security personnel, they marched about three hours to Sule.
The monks pushed past closed gates to briefly occupy the pagoda, witnesses said, and took over for about 30 minutes before leaving peacefully and returning to their own monasteries.