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Burmese monks meet with activist

Event ratchets up pressure on junta

Buddhist monks were allowed to march to the home of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as street protests against the ruling military junta intensified yesterday in Rangoon and in other parts of the country. Buddhist monks were allowed to march to the home of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as street protests against the ruling military junta intensified yesterday in Rangoon and in other parts of the country. (REUTERS/Democratic Voice of Burma)

RANGOON, Burma - Hundreds of demonstrating Buddhist monks marched past barricades to the home of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, raising pressure on the junta by symbolically uniting their growing protest movement with the icon of Burma's long struggle for democracy.

The two strands of the escalating opposition to Burma's military government came together on a Rangoon street after police unexpectedly let more than 500 monks and other protesters through a roadblock.

Suu Kyi has been seen only by a handful of guards, servants, and her doctors for more than four years. In the central city of Mandalay, a crowd of 10,000 people, including at least 4,000 Buddhist monks, marched yesterday in one of the largest demonstrations since the 1988 democracy uprising, witnesses said.

At the same time, about 1,000 monks marched in Rangoon, starting from Shwedagon Pagoda, the country's most revered shrine and a historic center for protest.

Monks have been marching for the past five days in Rangoon, Burma's biggest city, and around the country as a month of protests against economic problems under the junta have ballooned into the biggest grass-roots challenge to its rule in two decades.

By linking their cause to Suu Kyi's activism, the monks increase the pressure on the junta to decide whether to crack down or to compromise with the demonstrators. Suu Kyi has been detained for about 12 of the past 18 years.

The government has been handling the monks' disciplined but defiant protests gingerly, aware that forcibly breaking them up in predominantly Buddhist Burma would probably bring public outrage.

"The key is the monks and Aung San Suu Kyi have one thing in common: peaceful protest," said Larry Jagan, a Bangkok-based journalist specializing in Burma. "They want to see change through peaceful means. What we're seeing is a coming together of the main political force in the country and the main religious leaders."

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