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Burmese Authorities Fire Tear Gas at Protesting Buddhist Monks


Burmese authorities have used tear gas to disperse a crowd of demonstrating Buddhist monks, as thousands of monks staged protests across the country against the military government.

Witnesses say around one thousand monks were protesting Tuesday in the northwestern port city of Sittwe when security officials moved in. The witnesses say at least three monks were arrested.

Local residents in several other towns say monks chanting Buddhist scriptures on kindness and protection from evil had marched peacefully today. They say police and members of a pro-junta paramilitary group (Union Solidarity and Development Association) watched the monks and crowds of supporters closely, but did not intervene. There were some reports of onlookers' cameras being seized.

In Rangoon, witnesses say security forces stopped at least 300 monks from entering the famous Shwedagon pagoda, but made no arrests.

The monks are demanding an apology from the military-run government for soldiers that beat a group of monks during a demonstration two weeks ago in the central town of Pakokku. At least 800 monks gathered in protest in that town today

Today also marks the 19th anniversary of the coup that brought Burma's ruling junta -- now known as the State Peace and Development Council -- to power.

In the town of Bago (80 kilometers north of Rangoon), about one thousand chanting monks marched from Mannaing Monastery to the Shwemawdaw Pagoda.

Similar protests were reported in towns near Rangoon's Sule pagoda, in the city of Mandalay and other towns.

Public demonstrations began in Burma in August, when the government doubled the price of fuel. Officials say the price hike was in line with high world oil prices.

Analysts say the monks' defiance of the authorities is a dangerous sign for the ruling generals in a devoutly Buddhist country where monks are society's most respected figures.

Monks helped organize Burma's last mass demonstrations in 1988, which the government put down with deadly force.

Information for this story is provided by Reuters and AFP.

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