YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s military government issued a threat Monday to the Buddhist monks who led 100,000 people marching in the strongest protests against the repressive regime in two decades.
The warning suggests the junta is under increasing pressure to crack down on or compromise with a reinvigorated democracy movement. Authorities did not stop the protests Monday, even as they built to a scale and fervor that rivaled the pro-democracy uprising of 1988 when the military fired on peaceful crowds and killed thousands. The government has been handling the monks gingerly, wary of angering ordinary citizens in this devout, predominantly Buddhist nation.
However, on Monday night the country’s religious affairs minister appeared on state television to accuse the monks of being manipulated by the regime’s domestic and foreign enemies. Meeting with senior monks at Yangon’s Kaba Aye Pagoda, Brig. Gen. Thura Myint Maung said the protesting monks represented just 2 percent of the country’s population. He suggested that if senior monks did not restrain them, the government would act according to its own regulations, which he did not detail.
Current protests began Aug. 19 after the government sharply raised fuel prices in what is one of Asia’s poorest countries. But they are based in deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the repressive military government that has ruled the country in one form or another since 1962.