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Monks take march to Suu Kyi's doorstep

September 23, 2007|From the Associated Press

YANGON, MYANMAR — The wave of anti-government demonstrations sweeping Myanmar touched the doorstep of democracy heroine Aung San Suu Kyi, and Buddhist monks allowed to march past her home Saturday said they were greeted by the detained political leader and that she looked "fit and well."

The encounter came after police unexpectedly let more than 500 monks and other protesters through a roadblock on the street where Suu Kyi, 62, is under house arrest. Local news media said she broke into tears at one point. The road had been closed since Monday and was closed again after the monks passed.

Monks have been marching for five days in Yangon, the country's biggest city which also is known as Rangoon, and elsewhere, as a monthlong series of protests against economic conditions under the military government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, have ballooned into the biggest grass-roots challenge to its rule in two decades. About 1,000 monks marched in the city Saturday.

The monks, who have increased pressure on the government by taking over leadership of demonstrations that had been faltering, have upped the ante by symbolically linking their cause to Nobel laureate Suu Kyi's struggle for democracy, which has led to her being detained for about 12 of the last 18 years.

It also sets up the possibility of a violent confrontation, as the government seems increasingly forced to decide whether to crack down on or compromise with the demonstrators. Monks have drawn ever greater numbers of protesters with defiant, disciplined marches.

Suu Kyi has been under detention continuously since May 2003, when a convoy carrying her on a political trip through northern Myanmar was ambushed by pro-government thugs in what may have been an assassination attempt. She is the leader of the National League for Democracy party, which won a 1990 general election but was prevented by the military from taking power.

The latest protest movement began Aug. 19 after the government raised fuel prices, but has its basis in pent-up dissatisfaction with the repressive regime. Using arrests and intimidation, the government had managed to limit demonstrations in size and impact, but they gained new life when the monks joined.

In the central city of Mandalay, 10,000 people, including at least 4,000 monks, marched Saturday in one of the largest rallies since the 1988 democracy uprising, witnesses said.

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