November 15, 2011 / 9:49 AM / in 6 years

Myanmar monks hold rare protest over prisoners, war

YANGON (Reuters) - Five Buddhist monks held a protest in Myanmar’s second-biggest city on Tuesday, calling for peace in the country and the release of political prisoners in a rare demonstration that drew scores of onlookers, witnesses said.

Wearing maroon-coloured robes, the monks put up banners opposing conflict between government troops and ethnic rebels and the detention of hundreds of political activists, a bold show of dissent in a country where authorities have a history of crushing protests.

The demonstration at a Buddhist museum in Mandalay was the first since a protest by monks in 2007 snowballed into nationwide marches against the then military regime, during which at least 31 people were killed by security forces.

Contacted by Reuters, a Mandalay-based monk, who asked not to be named, said: “I’ve no idea who these monks are.”

“What they’re demanding is the desire of everybody,” he added “I do hope their wishes are fulfilled peacefully.”

Witnesses said at least 100 people gathered to watch as the monks put up signs and made speeches on loudspeakers in the city about 640 km north of the commercial capital, Yangon.

Exiled Burmese media organisations said a crowd of 500 people showed up.

The protest follows a peaceful demonstration by about 60 landless farmers in Yangon on October 27, when riot police were deployed to disperse the crowd.

Myanmar’s new civilian government, which took office on March 30, freed about 230 political detainees in a general amnesty on October 12, a move welcomed by the West as sign that the former generals in charge might start to ease their strict control of the country after five decades of military rule.

Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Martin Petty and Sugita Katyal

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